The Houston Cougars will make history Saturday night when they begin play as a Big 12 member by hosting the UTSA Roadrunners in a nonconference game.
After turning in an 8-5 season in its final campaign in the American Athletic Conference, capped by a win in the Independence Bowl, Houston will see the stakes get higher as they join the Big 12 alongside UCF, Cincinnati and BYU.
The Big 12 added the four schools as Texas and Oklahoma prepare to leave and join the Southeastern Conference next season.
Houston starting quarterback Donovan Smith transferred from Texas Tech, where he made eight starts and appeared in 21 games for the Red Raiders.
He started and beat Houston last season, leading Texas Tech to a 33-30 victory in double overtime. Smith threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns while getting intercepted three times, and he ran for a touchdown.
A 6-foot-5, 241-pound junior from Las Vegas, Smith has held off a challenge from Lucas Coley since camp opened as the duo vied to replace dynamic starter Clayton Tune.
“Donovan has had an incredible June, an incredible July, and a really, really good 2 1/2 weeks of camp,” coach Dana Holgorsen said last month. “He’s the clear-cut starter. Our team’s felt it. … This is Donovan’s team.”
The Cougars will don Houston Oilers-themed uniforms in Saturday’s opener.
After an 11-3 campaign that finished with a Cure Bowl loss a year ago, UTSA will attempt to produce its third straight double-digit-win season.
Like Houston, the Roadrunners also are entering a new league, shifting from Conference USA to the AAC.
Entering his seventh year with the program, quarterback Frank Harris knows the offense inside and out, especially after starting the past three seasons.
The Cougars beat the Roadrunners in San Antonio to open 2022, getting a two-point run by Tune for the game-winning score in a 37-35, triple-overtime win.
Harris said his offense needs to run the ball better than last year against Houston, when it rushed for just 104 yards on 28 carries — with 63 coming from Harris.
“(Houston) is great up front,” Harris said. “We couldn’t run the ball at all last season, so coach (Jeff Traylor) is challenging us to hold our end of the triangle and run the football.”
—Field Level Media