You might not think of the American Athletic Conference as an elite football conference, but if you believe the results on the field – and you should – it is.
“Well, the conference – based on its reputation and performance on the field, with all of the wins against Power 5 schools that we have and even a couple that have been near misses – we’ve certainly established ourselves as the premier non-Power 5 conference in the country,” Houston head coach Tom Herman said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “So it’s really gratifying and exciting to know that if you win the American Athletic Conference, you’re going to go to a New Year’s Day bowl game. That’s exciting and that’s a testament to all the programs in our conference.”
Herman will lead his No. 19 Cougars (11-1) against No. 22 Temple (10-2) in the AAC Championship this Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.
“At one time, I think we had as many (teams in the Top 25), if not the most, of any conference in America,” Herman said. “We’ve got some pretty signature wins with Temple beating Penn State and Memphis beating Ole Miss and us beating Louisville and Vanderbilt, and even Cincinnati beating the University of Miami by a couple touchdowns. So we’ve certainly established that if you win our conference, you’re going to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game and that’s petty exciting.”
Herman, who served as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator last year and helped the Buckeyes win a national championship, has felt right at home in Houston since Day 1.
“Well, first and foremost, the support here from the administration . . . I could tell there was a commitment to playing championship-level football here at the University of Houston,” Herman said. “And my roots are here in the state of Texas. Even though I wasn’t born here or raised here, I spent the better part of my adult life coaching football here in the state and have extremely strong ties with the high school coaches here in the state and knew the fertile recruiting grounds here. It just seemed like a perfect time and place for me to start my head-coaching career.”
Herman would also love to start his head-coaching career with a conference championship and a New Year’s Day bowl game. Both Houston and Temple, as DA pointed out, mirror each other in many ways.
“It’s a chip-on-the-shoulder game, so to speak,” Herman said. “For years, both programs have bene kind of overlooked – maybe to the point of (being) disrespected even. I think Coach (Matt) Rhule has done an excellent job of elevating his program, and what we’ve been able to accomplish here – we do it with kids that certainly have a chip on their shoulder. They may be an inch too short or a step too slow on the clock when they time a 40, but they play with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm and physicality. And you’re exactly right. I think it’ll be two teams that pattern themselves after the same underdog mentality.”