The far-reaching implications of Houston’s stunning upset over Louisville
Houston’s win against No. 5 Louisville—on a Thursday night, with everyone who cares deeply about college football watching uninterrupted—was a classic domino game. It’s only one result, but it can affect so much down the line. Consider all the things the Cougars’ 36–10 win could influence:
• The playoff race
This loss probably eliminates Louisville from contention. That should give some hope to the Big 12, which still may get shut out but now has a chance. Well, it has a chance if West Virginia beats Oklahoma on Saturday. If the Mountaineers finish 11–1 and win the Big 12 (this would require Oklahoma State to lose to TCU or Oklahoma), they would have the best shot of any Big 12 team to make the playoff. The nightmare scenario for the league may be if Oklahoma wins out. The Sooners got drubbed by Houston to start the season and hammered by Ohio State in Week 3. Even if Oklahoma goes 9–0 in Big 12 play, the committee will have to do some serious mental gymnastics to rank the Sooners ahead of the Cougars. And if the Buckeyes lose to Michigan and wind up 10–2, there is no sane way the committee can rank Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State.
This also further reinforces the possibility of two Big Ten teams making the playoff if Washington doesn’t win out or if Clemson loses one more game. If Ohio State beats Michigan State and Michigan to finish 11–1 and Penn State beats Rutgers and Michigan State, the Buckeyes will be left out of the Big Ten title game but should—based on the committee’s obvious esteem for them—make the playoff. That would open the door for a 10–2 Big Ten champ (either Wisconsin or Penn State) to make the playoff.
• Tom Herman’s wallet
Remember when Houston coach Herman was the 2016 version of 2004 Urban Meyer? Remember when his team lost a couple of games and everyone questioned the hype? We got a reminder Thursday of why some school—or possibly multiple schools—will throw gobs of money at Herman in a few weeks. LSU is open. Texas might open. Oregon might open. Kevin Sumlin should be fine at Texas A&M, but the Aggies are just crazy enough to do something rash if LSU hands them a fourth consecutive SEC loss. If UCLA thinks very hard about its situation, it might also want to enter that sweepstakes. Herman has only been a head coach for two seasons, but he has proven himself an excellent big-game coach. Give him a program with top-shelf talent—or at least the ability to acquire top-shelf talent—and it’s easy to see how he could win championships at the Power Five level.
• The (previously) ho-hum Heisman race
That loss probably won’t cost Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson the Heisman Trophy. If you were drafting a team based only on what’s happened this season, Jackson would still be your first pick. But it does add a little intrigue. And what’s interesting is that the two players who might benefit most don’t play quarterback or (primarily) tailback. Michigan linebacker/tailback/returner Jabrill Peppers could grab votes with a huge game against Ohio State and a good follow-up in the Big Ten title game. (This assumes that huge game for Peppers helps Michigan win in Columbus). Meanwhile, Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen has made a strong case all season to be considered the nation’s most outstanding player. If he dominates in the Iron Bowl and the SEC title game, he could also grab Heisman votes.
• Heisman races to come
Houston freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver delivered the best performance Thursday night, blowing up plays from the inside out or drifting down the line of scrimmage to swat down passes. A defensive tackle—who can directly affect every play in which he participates—probably offers the best chance for a lineman to win a Heisman Trophy.
Oliver, who has 18.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and six pass deflections, will only get better. If he’s not on all the Heisman watch lists going into next season, it’s a glaring oversight.