First-year Houston head coach Tom Herman, already a hot name as a head coach on the rise, became even hotter Saturday with a 52-31 win over Navy. The win not only put the 11-1 Cougars in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, but put them in strong position for a New Year's Six bowl appearance as well.
Quarterback Greg Ward threw three touchdown passes to lead a Houston offense that moved the ball at will against the Midshipmen with 555 total yards. His primary target was Demarcus Ayers, who made a spectacular one-handed catch for a 62-yard touchdown. Ayers finished with eight receptions for 161 yards and a score. Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds was effective as well, completing 13 of 16 passes for 312 yards and a score, while rushing for 84 from Navy's triple-option offense.
Houston will play Temple or South Florida next week in the AAC title game. Navy will play in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28, which it was guaranteed when it became bowl eligible with its sixth win of the season. Only an AAC title would have gotten Navy into a better bowl, which it can no longer claim with Houston winning the league's West division. If Navy had defeated Houston, the College Football Playoff selection committee would have waited an additional week to make a final determination on any bowl pairings that could have affected Navy, as Navy plays Army on Dec. 12.
Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator, has overseen a significant first-year improvement at UH, which went 8-5 last season. With job openings at several major programs including USC, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Missouri and Maryland, Herman has been heavily speculated as a potential target for ongoing coaching searches.