FALCON POINTS

These 5 teams of interest in Houston have the most to prove in the new year

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

As the calendar turns on a new year and new decade, the sports scene in Houston has not changed all that much. The Astros are going to be contenders again (and accused of cheating again), the Rockets will continue to tweak to try to take the ultimate step, and the Texans will be hard to get behind as long as Bill O'Brien prowls the sidelines. Still, when it comes to the local pro and college ranks, these five programs/franchises will have the most to prove in the new year:


1) Can the Texans rise above mediocrity?

They get their first chance Saturday against the Bills. While just winning A playoff game should not be the goal, considering the Texans past postseason appearances under O'Brien, a loss would render the season a major disappointment and call into question the entire operation (again). And make no mistake, the Texans can lose this game. A second-round setback against a better team would not really be a success, either, but it would be an improvement. Getting to an AFC Championship Game should be the minimum goal. Does anyone really believe that can happen? The window is now for the Texans, and a playoff run this season or massive improvement next year might silence some critics. Of all the teams on this list, they have the most to prove.

2) The big state schools

The Texans Longhorns did not proclaim themselves back after winning the Alamo Bowl, which is smart. They did follow up a 10 win season with an 8-win one, and eight should be the floor there. The Longhorns should be serious contenders for the Big 12 title and a playoff berth at worst in 2020. It's time to find out if Tom Herman is the right man to get it done.

In College Station, the Aggies went all in on Jimbo Fisher, and the results have been, like the commercial says, just OK. Fisher has gone 9-4 and 8-5, and this past season they lost to every good team on their schedule. They did play perhaps the toughest slate in the nation, but at some point, Fisher is supposed to win some of those games. It needs to happen this year.

3) Harden and the Rockets

The Rockets more than any other team in Houston keep pushing their chips in the middle and trying new things. The addition of Russell Westbrook is still a work in progress, although the team has shown some signs of life. The Rockets have at least been to a couple Western Conference Finals in the Harden era, but the franchise makes no bones about its goal of winning a title. They still look to be a little short of teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks in the title hierarchy, but they aren't done tweaking, either. Mike D'Antoni's job remains in flux. This latest all-in move has to pay off.

4) UH's bizarre, bold move

When Dana Holgorsen took over UH's football team, expectations were high. But it did not take long to figure out the cupboard had been left awfully bare by Major Applewhite and his staff. So Holgorsen basically punted on the season after the Tulane loss, red shirting some key seniors and limping to a 4-8 record. Star quarterback D'Eriq King was one of those players. If King stays and is joined by a bevy of high quality transfers, the Cougars could be right back in the AAC race next season. If he leaves and the strategy backfires? Holgorsen's job is safe, but this year's moves will be defined by next season.

5) Does a controversial off-season derail the Astros?

The dumb sign stealing saga has dominated the off-season, along with the loss of Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, which makes New York the likely AL favorites. The Astros have not made any significant additions, and do not appear to be poised to do so, suddenly concerned about a bloated payroll. The off-field messes, from the sign saga to the former assistant GM saga to the forcing the Ryans out saga...To the on field: A.J. Hunch's bizarre handling of his pitching staff in the Game 7 Series loss. The Astros will have their lineup intact for another year, but the starting pitching - so strong last season - is a big bunch of question marks. While the off-field stuff should not impact things on the field too much, who knows? The Rangers and Angels will be better. The Astros are still the class of the AL West, but did their title window close? Probably not, but there will be real questions in 2020.

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The Marlins are showing interest in Yuli Gurriel. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

As the reporting date for pitchers and catchers draws near, there are still some decisions hanging over the Astros. One of them is whether or not to bring back Yuli Gurriel. “La Piña,” as he's affectionately called, is 38 years old. He turns 39 in June. His leadership and instincts cannot be matched. The man has seen a ton of baseball and comes from a family of baseballers. So, what's the holdup?

Enter the Miami Marlins. The ownership group, led by Bruce Sherman, is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on the heavy Cuban population in the Miami area. Bringing in the Cuban Babe Ruth is a great way to attempt to get more fan engagement. The franchise has only been to the playoffs three times. First two times (1997 and 2003), they won it all. In 2020, they were swept in the NLDS. They're most likely offering him a ridiculous amount of money to come to a team with a losing history. Knowing the Marlins are willing to hand out stupid money, would you blame La Piña for taking one last ridiculous payday?

Think about it. He's got two rings and made a ton of money. He can safely retire very comfortably. The lure to come back for another year or two would definitely be about money. The Marlins aren't a real threat in the next couple of seasons to do anything, but are willing to pay me like I'm still a star? Plus, I'm closer to my home country with all my family and friends? Sign me up!

This is where the Astros have to make a decision. Bring Yuli back for another year or move on. If he follows through with his last four years, this should be a bounce back year. Since 2016, his first year in Houston and MLB, he's hit .262, .299, .291, .298, .232 (pandemic shortened season), .319, and .242 last season. The man is a professional hitter. He knows how to work an at-bat and can drive pitchers nuts. His defense isn't bad either. He's a more than capable first baseman.

This won't win me any favor, but I think it's time to move on. Yuli will always have a place in my heart because he was a major factor in the Astros' two World Series wins. Last season's title run was even more satisfying since it helped silence the haters. That was the mouthwash that got rid of the stench of the sign stealing scandal. Piña was there through it all.

Now, it's time to start transitioning towards the future. Piña, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr were the only holdovers from the 2017 team. Verlander was one of the guys the Mets backed the Brinks truck up for this offseason. Altuve (32), Bregman (28), and McCullers (29) should be all that's left of that group. While it would've been great to have Verlander (39) back, the emergence of the youth movement in the pitching staff made his loss somewhat expendable. At some point, the nostalgia wears off. Father Time and Mother Nature are both undefeated. If they were to bring Piña back, he should be a part timer transitioning into a hitting coach. Careers come to an end. It's time to start looking at his exit.

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