Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 11/8/11
HOUSTON -- Coaches always say they take it one game at a time, but that isn't really true. Not everywhere, anyway. Kevin Sumlin pulled back the curtain Tuesday. The University of Houston football coach used to work at Oklahoma, and things are a little different at a place like that. "I've been at a place where you broke the huddle from day one and said, 'national champs,' so that's not going on here," Sumlin said. "(At Houston) we don't break the huddle from the first day of practice and say that." In college football, national championships can, to some degree, be won in the offseason. But only at a select few places, and definitely not at Houston which in theory could win all its games and not even play in a BCS bowl game. So as the Cougars' season appears to build to something great -- the Cougars are 9-0 and ranked 11th -- nobody inside the walls of the football facility is allowing themselves to think about what could be happening. "We're tied with Tulsa, right now, in the west," Sumlin said. That is, the west division of Conference USA. That's where Sumlin has his team focused, to the extent that is possible. But just outside the football offices, people are finding all the possibilities difficult to ignore. With just three games left in the regular season, there are those at Houston who can't help but allow themselves to dream about what could be. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't say maybe just a little bit," athletic director Mack Rhoades said. "But we try to take it one game at a time." Standing between UH and a perfect season are Tulane (2-8), SMU (6-3), Tulsa (6-3) and perhaps a date in the Conference USA championship game against No. 25 Southern Miss (8-1), the only other ranked team in Conference USA. The two teams have not met this season. If neither loses the rest of its games, that C-USA title game could be Houston's only opportunity to beat a ranked team this season. Otherwise, the biggest name on the schedule was UCLA (5-4), which the Cougars beat 38-34 in the season opener. The Conference USA champion has never been invited to a bowl game bigger than the Liberty Bowl, although C-USA had a perfect team before. In 1998 Tulane went 12-0, won the Liberty Bowl and finished No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll. The only other team to finish undefeated that year was Tennessee, which won the national championship. The BCS bowls that year included three teams ranked lower than Tulane in the final AP poll and one, Big East champion Syracuse, that was ranked lower than Tulane in the BCS standings. But that was before the creation of the BCS national championship game, before Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, before Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, before TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. It so happens that 1998 was the first year of the BCS, and things have changed. Schools from non-BCS conferences get more respect than they used to, and Houston has developed a level of national cache Tulane had not gained when the 1998 season began. The Cougars have been ranked for parts of the last three seasons. Still, Houston most likely will need some help from above. There will be four at-large BCS bids available but as it appears now Boise State, Alabama, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State and the loser between Stanford and Oregon are written in. In pencil, of course. But still. And that's all Sumlin's point. So many of the conditions that would put Houston in the BCS are beyond Houston's control. He preaches that. He also knows the rankings come out every Sunday evening, so guess when he had his team on the practice field Sunday. "There's a reason we practiced at 7:15 the other night," he said. "It wasn't just a coincidence." But Sumlin also lives in the real world, and Houston has a real chance to be real special. "I'm not so nave to think they didn't go look at the television as soon as they got back," he said. "Because coaches do the same thing. You're in a business where they keep score."
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