West Virginia and Texas Christian enter Big 12 football this September, and down in Houston, 85-year-old Bill Yeoman has a little advice for the newcomers: “Don't do anything other than what you have been doing. Just realize you have to squeeze a little harder for the entire game. Can't take any vacations.”
Probably wise to listen to Yeoman. Few football coaches ever have been so successful at moving their programs into a new neighborhood.
TCU and West Virginia are trying to replicate what the University of Houston did back in 1976. Yeoman's Cougars finally were admitted to the Southwest Conference, and UH didn't go in meek and mild.
The '76 Cougars won in Waco in their SWC debut. They beat Texas A&M, which was coming off a 10-2 season, in their SWC home opener. And on Nov. 6, they went to Austin and beat the Longhorns 30-0. In the virtual SWC title game, Houston beat Texas Tech in Lubbock 27-19.
A Cotton Bowl in Houston's first year.
Those 'Horns and Red Raiders and Aggies “probably didn't realize what they were getting into,” Yeoman said.
Houston had an all-world defensive tackle, Wilson Whitley, and a mean linebacker in Guy Brown. “Nobody had better players than that, in the country,” Yeoman said.
Houston had a savvy quarterback in Danny Davis. And it had a coach who had invented the veer offense and knew how to run it, and it would take him to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Maybe Yeoman's advice had best be directed elsewhere. Hey Sooners and 'Horns and Cowboys and 'Cats. Don't underestimate West Virginia and TCU, two programs that have done their fair share of winning in recent years.
“We had built up a pretty good football program for four, five, six, seven years before we went in there,” Yeoman said.
The Cougars had been playing quality competition. Over the years, Houston had played the likes of Alabama and Auburn and Arizona State.
“We knew what a football team looked like,” Yeoman said. “We were blessed with some youngsters that were pretty good. Going into it, our goal certainly was not to come in second. It was to try to win the darned thing.”
Houston didn't stop at 1976. The Cougars also won the SWC in 1978 and 1979. Three titles in their first four years in the league.
That's better than Miami in its first four years in the Big East. Better than Virginia Tech's first four years in the ACC.
Doesn't the Houston story sound like West Virginia and TCU? An iconic coach at TCU (Gary Patterson). An offensive mastermind at West Virginia (Dana Holgorsen). Quality quarterbacks (WVU's Geno Smith, TCU's Casey Paschall). Been playing big games (TCU won the Rose Bowl 18 months ago; West Virginia won the Orange Bowl six months ago).
Sure, there are some questions about consistency. The Big 12 is a big step up from the Big East and the Mountain West. There is a curiosity on the part of the Frogs and the Mountaineers.
“Does our plan need to be tweaked?” asked Patterson. “Because of the size of defensive tackles, do we have to get bigger starting centers and guards? What is it we have to have to be better and compete on a weekly basis?
“I don't think we're going to know that until we get into it on a day-to-day basis. You make notes as you go. We're learning as we move through it all.”
But likewise, the Southwest Conference was a big step up from Houston's independent schedule. And the Cougars met the challenge. In fact, the step up works in the newcomers' favor.
“Our kids were very anxious to get ready,” Yeoman said. “As were our supporters. We were all lathered up.”
TCU and West Virginia will be all lathered up, too.
You've been warned, Big 12 veterans, by one of college football's best.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.