It’s true, if hard to believe: the first month of the football season is already in the rearview mirror. What have we learned about the hometown Texans and Cougars this September? A lot, it turns out.
So J.J. is done, for eight weeks at least and possibly the entire season. At issue is that achy back, on which he had surgery to repair a herniated disc this offseason. The defensive superstar is sad, and his coaches can’t be too pleased about the news, either. ESPN crunched some numbers overnight and found that Watt, since the beginning of the 2013 season, was personally responsible for saving 5.6 points per game, increasing the Texans’ overall win probability by roughly 20 percent each time out. “That kind of effect on win probability is what might be more typical when a team loses an elite quarterback to injury.” For a defender, it's nearly unheard of.
Limping to the Finish
How good were the Texans playing before Watt went down? It was a mixed bag. The offense looked serviceable against Chicago. The defense looked stout against Kansas City. Then last Thursday against the Patriots, the g*****n plane crashed into the mountain. Deadspin’s Patrick Redford details the misery here, for those who get their kicks reliving painful experiences. Add it all up, and the Texans are 2-1, but with an efficiency profile among the worst in the NFL. That Osweiler-lead offense has struggled in particular; according to the stat DVOA (explained here), only one team has run the ball less effectively, while just three have passed less effectively. One consolation? The rest of the AFC South has played horribly, and a division crown, somehow, might still be reachable.
For a boost, one need only to shift that gaze eight miles over, from NRG Stadium to TDECU Stadium. That’s where the UH Cougars have, through four games, absolutely lived up to the preseason hype. If you’re head coach Tom Herman, there’s a lot to be kissy about: an AP ranking in the top-six; an efficiency profile to match; a stingy defense that ranks fifth nationally in yards allowed; and a quarterback in Greg Ward Jr. who has logged an impressive quarterback rating of 84.8 and, sore shoulder aside, has done nothing to disqualify himself from Heisman consideration. If the season ended today, SB Nation's panel of pundits predict Houston would qualify for the College Football Playoff, the program’s plainly stated ambition. (Others, it should be noted, are less bullish.)
Here Comes Lamar
If you hadn’t already, circle November 17 on your calendar. That’s when the third-ranked Louisville Cardinals and Lamar Jackson roll into town. Through four games, their phenom quarterback has accounted for as many or more touchdowns (25) than all but one FBS team. It’s madness. And should UH and UL somehow survive their schedules unscathed, that matchup at TDECU will have enormous postseason implications. Tickets can be had on the secondary market, for the right (read: steep) price.
Big 12 Dreams Dashed?
The only person spoiling the Coog’s hot start is University of Oklahoma president David Boren. Perhaps feeling salty about the beatdown his Sooners received four weeks ago, Boren is now waffling about his previously stated support for a Big 12 expansion, according to Sports Illustrated sources: “The politics of the Big 12 are such that without support from Oklahoma, this whole expansion exploration may end up proving an exercise in futility.” UH is a prime expansion candidate, and it’s unlikely the athletic department can maintain its current level of spending without an invitation to a power five conference (and the accompanying television revenue such a move would generate). Multiple Big 12 officials still believe that October 17 will be “Decision Day for the conference,” one way or the other. That's when presidents and chancellors will meet for a board meeting. Hold onto your hats.