Sports

University Of Houston Hopes To Get Fans In The Stands As Undefeated Cougars Look To Postseason

It’s been a big year for the University of Houston football team. The undefeated Cougars have been climbing in the rankings, but fans haven’t been packing the stadium.

University of Houston football fans cheering from the stands.
Fans cheering from the stands.

While other students are headed home for the day, it’s practice time for the University of Houston Cougars. They have a lot on the line this weekend. UH comes in at #24 in the college football playoff rankings. They’re hosting Memphis Saturday in a nationally-televised matchup. The Tigers are ranked 21st.

UH Freshman Tony Marks has his tickets and he says he’s ready to show some school spirit.

“I know the crowd is going to be rocking,” says Marks. “The stadium is just going to be going crazy. And I can’t wait to see what our Cougars do.”

But just across campus, some students have other things on their minds. We caught up with grad student Kirstie Thibodaux as she was setting up an information table at the Student Center Satellite. Thibodaux says she’s way too busy to worry about football, but she thinks it’s “awesome” the team is undefeated.

A sellout crowd was on hand when U of H opened its new $120 million TDECU Stadium in August 2014. The stadium has a capacity of about 40,000. But it hasn’t seen that kind of crowd since. Despite the team’s unbeaten record, its average attendance this year is a little over 30,000. That’s despite the fact they’ve played some pretty close games.

Joseph Duarte covers University of Houston Football for the Houston Chronicle.

“Whatever they’re doing it’s working,” says Duarte. “But you combine an explosive offense with a defense that really forces turnovers. And that’s a great combination for a winning team that’s climbing in the polls.”

The last time the Cougars generated this much buzz was in 2011. The team was undefeated in the regular season, but lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Then, Coach Kevin Sumlin resigned to go to Texas A&M.

UH went on to win the TicketCity Bowl but fell off the national radar after that. Duarte says that just shows how quickly things can change.

“I think right now they need to seize the opportunity of being undefeated, and being talked about these major bowl and postseason scenarios,” says Duarte. “Because those are the things that the Power Five conferences are going to look at when it comes time for the next round of realignment.”

And as the school works to raise its football profile there are also questions about the future of first-year coach Tom Herman, and whether he too will get lured away by a more high-profile school.

University of Houston Football team running out
University of Houston Football team

Herman brushes off the talk. He says his concern right now is how to continue improving the program, to make it a more attractive sell to potential recruits.

Herman says for one, he’d like to add an indoor practice facility.

“Us coaches, we get a little impatient at times. And I understand that, that this is a bit of a bureaucracy here when you’re dealing with higher education and there are steps that need to be taken in terms of where you want to go,” says Herman. “It can’t happen overnight, but I do think we’re headed in the right direction. I think the sky’s the limit for where we see ourselves.”

And student Tony Marks is hoping more of his fellow students check out what the team has to offer.

“As the team continues to win you have more, I hate to say bandwagon fans, but more supporters coming out to check out the Coogs and being able to see first-hand what they’re doing on the football field and what they’re producing,” says Marks.

As for the expected attendance for Saturday’s game, the athletic department says all the lower deck tickets have sold out, and there’s less than 3,000 still available for the upper decks.

Kickoff is at 6 p.m. and you can see the game on ESPN2.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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