With Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF leaving the American Athletic Association for the Big 12, here is a final look at their time in the conference and the best football moments.
The AAC was formed in 2013, and the conference didn’t conduct its first championship game until the 2015 season. Here is a look back at the best moments for Houston.
1. AAC 2015 championship
The Cougars’ shining moment during their time in the AAC was in 2015, the first year the league held a championship. The Cougars went 13-1 that season and won the inaugural AAC championship. As the champion of the West Division, Houston got to host the title game, beating No. 20 Temple 24-13.
Houston, guided by first-year coach Tom Herman, was No. 17 entering the game.
The star of the title game was quarterback Greg Ward, who began his career as a receiver but became a major dual threat at QB. Ward ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He was also 11-for-18 passing for 88 yards, but it was Ward’s legs that drove the Cougars to victory.
Ward scored on runs of 47 and 10 yards, the second giving the Cougars a 24-3 lead with under seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Ward, who eventually played with the Philadelphia Eagles as a receiver, also went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, becoming the first quarterback in Houston history to do so.
On the defensive end, William Jackson, a 2016 first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, set a school record by breaking up seven passes. He also had five tackles. Elandon Roberts added five tackles for Houston.
Temple’s top defensive player was defensive end Haason Reddick, who had five tackles. Reddick, an NFL Pro Bowl selection this season with the Philadelphia Eagles, was among the many NFL players in this game. The level of talent this season in the AAC was truly impressive.
The victory also earned Houston the Group of Five’s spot in a New Year Six bowl game. Which brings us to the second top highlight.
2. Houston beats Florida State in 2015 Peach Bowl
The Cougars ended the 2015 season with a 13-1 record after defeating Florida State 38-24 in an entertaining Peach Bowl, which was played on New Year’s Eve. Florida State, which was favored by seven points and was ranked No. 9, finished 10-3. It was the most points allowed by Florida State that season.
The Houston defense held dangerous Dalvin Cook to 33 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Leading 31-24, Houston sealed the win on Ryan Jackson’s 2-yard touchdown run with 1:59 left.
Ward rushed for 67 yards and two scores on 20 carries. He also completed 25 of 41 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Chance Allen had four receptions for 59 yards and two scores. (One 20-yard touchdown reception was thrown on an option pass by wide receiver Demarcus Ayers.)
Jackson led the defensive effort with two interceptions, two pass breakups, and 10 tackles. Cougars safety Trevon Stewart also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Houston’s only loss in 2015 came at Connecticut, 20-17, in a game Ward missed due to injury. Four wins came over teams that were ranked at the time Houston played them – against (25) Memphis, (16) Navy, (20) Temple, and (9) Florida State.
3. 2021 season – AAC finalist
Houston went 12-2 and was 8-0 in the regular season in the AAC, earning a berth in the championship game. The Cougars dropped their opener 38-21 to Texas Tech in a game the Cougars led 21-7 at halftime. Houston then didn’t lose again until falling 35-20 to Cincinnati in the AAC championship, catapulting the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati was in command all the way, leading 35-13 before Houston scored the game’s final TD.
The Cougars then beat Auburn 17-13 in the Birmingham Bowl. Houston’s Clayton Tune completed 26 of 40 passes for 281 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed for 43 yards on seven carries. Alton McCaskill rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries and caught four passes for 15 yards and a touchdown.
For the season, Tune completed 297 of 420 (68.35) for 3,544 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
4. Beating Two No. 3s
Houston opened the 2016 season with a 33-23 win over an Oklahoma team that was ranked No. 3. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Houston led 33-17 before Oklahoma scored on a 25-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to Mark Andrews with just 2:05 left. Ward completed 23 of 40 for 321 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Steven Dunbar had seven receptions for 125 yards and Duke Catalon and Tyler McCloskey had touchdown receptions.
Brandon Wilson had 10 tackles, Matthew Adams added nine, and Ed Oliver contributed seven tackles, including two tackles for loss.
A highlight of the game was Houston’s Brandon Wilson returning a missed 54-yard field goal attempt 100 yards for a score that made it 26-17 Houston with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
With the win in the previous season’s Peach Bowl, this was the first time in school history that Houston had consecutive wins against Top 10 opponents.
It was the first of two wins over a team that was No. 3 in the country as later that season Houston earned a 36-10 home win over Louisville, which saw its chance at a college football playoff berth end after falling to 9-2.
Ward threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a game Houston led 31-0 at halftime. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for 211 yards and a touchdown and was held to 33 yards rushing on 25 carries. Jackson would still win the Heisman Trophy that season and Mayfield won it in 2017.
Houston would finish the season 9-4.
5. Dominance of Ed Oliver
It was considered a coup when Houston recruited Oliver and he lived up to the hype.
In 32 games over three seasons from 2016-2018, the 6-1, 287-pound defensive tackle accounted for 193 tackles, 53 tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks. He was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and the 2017 Outland Trophy Winner. Oliver is a member of the Buffalo Bills, after being the No. 9 player selected in the 2019 NFL draft.