HOUSTON (AP) — In more than 25 years of coaching college football, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen had dealt with only two canceled games before this season.
This year? He and the Cougars have had five games either canceled or postponed because of the pandemic, pushing their season opener back again and again. If everything goes well in the next couple of days, their long wait will finally end when they host American Athletic Conference foe Tulane on Thursday night.
“We’re all ready to play some ball,” senior defensive lineman Payton Turner said. “So, we hope this time around is the start.”
Their first cancellation came in July when Washington State called off its game as the Pac-12 put the football season on hold. Houston was supposed to open against crosstown rival Rice on Sept. 2, but that game was scrapped in August.
Houston was set to play Memphis on Sept. 18 before a COVID-19 outbreak with the Tigers forced that game to be rescheduled for Dec. 5. The Cougars scrambled to find a makeup game and were planning to play Baylor that week, only to have the Bears call things off less than 24 hours before kickoff.
Their most recent cancellation came when North Texas called things off because of coronavirus cases three days before the scheduled Sept. 26 game.
“You can’t compare this to anything,” said Holgorsen. “This is on a whole other level.”
The challenge for Holgorsen and his coaching staff has been to keep the team ready without overworking players with such a long delay before the first game.
“I think if we would have practiced really hard and scrimmaged like we would in say like spring practice situation, I think we would have got worse,” Holgorsen said. “So, we’ve been ready, we’ve stayed ready and now it’s time to go play.”
Turner said it was a “buzzkill” to see game after game get called off. But the leaders of the team did a good job of keeping everyone upbeat and focused until they were able to play.
“You’ve just got to work on keeping the process fresh and not getting bored with preparations and stuff even though you don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “So, just keep working like you’re going to play until you play.”
Holgorsen, who is in his second year at Houston, said one unexpected bonus has been an increased level of bonding within the group.
“We’re probably closer as a football team than we’ve been just because we’ve been through some things and some setbacks and some things that we can’t control,” Holgorsen said. “And we continue to do the right thing and continue to practice and stay ready. We know this isn’t on us. So, we just hang in there.”
And now that it looks like the Cougars will finally get to play a game, Holgorsen is curious to see if they’ll be negatively impacted by the fact that Tulane has already played three games and won two of them.
“I don’t know because I doubt it’s ever happened before,” he said. “Maybe you can maybe pull some positives out of it. You definitely can pull some negatives out of it. It’s a wait and see thing.”
But the Cougars are trying not to worry about that and focusing on the positives as they prepare for the opener.
“It’s just finally here,” senior offensive lineman Braylon Jones said. "It’s a lot of excitement. When the potential first five games were all postponed or canceled guys have been feeling discouraged all those weeks ... So, we’re finally ready to get this thing kicked off.”