The debut season for Tom Herman as a head coach could not have gone too much better. No. 18 Houston (13-1) capped a dream season with a 38-24 victory over No. 9 Florida State (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to kickoff the New Years Six on New Year’s Eve. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. passed for 238 yards and a touchdown and ran for two touchdowns and 67 yards in the win, although he was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter. That forced Houston to close out the win with backup quarterback Kyle Postma, who picked up key third down conversion and led the Cougars to a cherry on top touchdown.
Houston’s offense shined against Florida State. The Cougars put together an evenly distributed 452 yards of offense, including 191 rushing yards, and lost the football just once. It was Houston’s defense that really stepped up and took Florida State out early. The Cougars forced five turnovers in the game and shut down talented running back Dalvin Cook in the first half. Cook ended his afternoon with just 33 rushing yards and a touchdown, and he was knocked out in the final two minutes after being popped by two Houston defenders. Florida State’s offensive line could not provide much room to run though, and that continued from start to finish.
Houston also knocked out quarterback Sean Maguire for a brief stretch in the first half, leaving Florida State to play briefly with a third string quarterback (J.J. Cosentino) who did not even appear on the team’s depth chart for the game. Everett Golson was not with the team due to a death in the family). Maguire did pass for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns, but he was under pressure plenty of times and was intercepted four times. Florida State was limited to just 17 first downs in the game.
Houston took a 21-3 lead into halftime and led 24-10 in the fourth quarter when the teams began exchanging touchdowns on the scoreboard. Florida State’s offense appeared to be taking advantage of a tirewd Houston defense, but the Cougars always seemed to have an answer waiting.
At least someone behind Florida State’s Twitter account had a sense of humor. Referencing an earlier loss to Georgia Tech, Florida State made a resolution for the new year:
Of course, one of the College Football Playoff games will be played in the Peach Bowl next year…
(Also, Florida State is scheduled to play Alabama in a season-opening game in Atlanta in 2017, but enough about that…)
Houston was clearly the top Group of Five program this season, and having Herman come to guide the program coming off a national championship as an Ohio State assistant helped the Cougars take a giant step forward as a program. With Herman already lined up to return to Houston in 2016, Houston’s run as a dominant Group of Five program is just getting started. Houston is currently lining up a very talented recruiting class, one that would make even some power conference programs envious.
Florida State will open the 2016 season in Orlando when the Seminoles clash with Ole Miss on a neutral field on September 5. Expect Florida State to still remain one of the top teams in the ACC in 2016 with plenty of talent to work with and perhaps another strong recruiting class being signed. The ACC Atlantic Division could very well be a race between Florida State and Clemson, although Louisville may be in the hunt as well. This may have been a second straight step back for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State (yes, they were undefeated in the regular season in 2014), but the Seminoles will not be likely to continue down a steep decline.
Houston will also open the 2016 season with a bit of a high profile matchup. Houston will kick off the 2016 season in NRG Stadium in Houston against the Oklahoma Sooners, defending Big 12 champions and College Football Playoff participant this season. As with most Group of Five programs, this will be a tremendous opportunity for Houston to assert itself as the top Group of Five program out of the gates, and it figures to be as good an opportunity as any for Ward. to establish himself in the early field of Heisman Trophy candidates.