In the third year of the College Football Playoff, we might already have our first outsider. Houston, as they like to say, is taking over.
This was already supposed to be a big season for the Cougars—who are essentially playing for an invitation to the Big 12—and now they've gone and beaten the reigning Big 12 champion and Playoff representative, Oklahoma, in decisive fashion, 33-23.
Houston was expected to compete in this game. The Cougars went 11-1 and made a New Year's Six Bowl last season, beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl. They return quarterback Greg Ward and signed a five-star recruit (Ed Oliver)—the first non-power program to do that. Oh, and they have one of the best coaches in the country in Tom Herman.
But a win like this? Now it's time to talk seriously about Houston being a Playoff contender.
There are two major obstacles to a playoff berth that would make Houston's inclusion simply astounding. The first is that, in normal circumstances, there are only a handful of teams that can legitimately contend for a national championship, at least at this point—all the traditional powers, plus upstarts like Oregon and Stanford. The playoff field has the possibility of including four of maybe 40 different teams—heck, Iowa was inches away from making it last year—but all 128 teams in FBS are not realistically playing in the same league.
Houston, however, actually belongs in that equation. There's a long way to go, and as a non-power team, the Cougars aren't given the luxury of off-games that others are. They're not allowed to slip up, like Oklahoma did against Texas last year, and they have to beat every good team they play. It takes all that to get UH into the conversation.
And this looks like a team that can actually do it.
But even tougher for non-power teams is that they're working against perception in a subjective process. Boise State, despite beating teams like Oregon and Virginia Tech, was never able to make a national championship game. Houston not only needs to win convincingly every week, but they also need to blow out a top opponent. And it's already done the latter—just one game into the season.
Even considering those obstacles, things might set up perfectly for Houston if it lives up to its end of the bargain. College football doesn't have that many dominant teams this year that can steal Playoff spots. The SEC will get a team in, as will Clemson or Florida State, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs. The Big 12's best team just lost to the Cougars, while the Pac-12 has a few strong teams, but no strong contender to go undefeated. Michigan and Ohio State could beat each other up in the Big Ten.
There is an opening for an outsider, and after week one, it's clear that there's an outsider who could capitalize. Get ready for the Houston-to-the-Playoff talk. It's coming, and it's well-warranted.