Cougars 'embrace' underdog role against FSU in Peach Bowl
ATLANTA (AP) The Houston Cougars may get less respect than any other one-loss team in the nation - and that's fine with coach Tom Herman.
Houston is a seven-point underdog against Florida State in Thursday's Peach Bowl. Herman disputes the idea that has left the No. 14 Cougars with a ''giant chip on our shoulder.''
Houston (12-1) won the American Athletic Conference in Herman's first season and boasts a high-scoring offense led by dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr. But Herman named Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and safety Derwin James as examples of top NFL-bound players not found on the Houston roster.
By comparison, Herman said Houston's undersized safeties Adrian McDonald (5-11, 205) and Trevon Stewart (5-10, 195) ''have got to check the line at the roller coaster to see if they can get on.''
''I think we're the underdog for a reason,'' Herman said Wednesday. ''Let's be honest. The last time I checked, we don't have Jalen Ramsey on our team, and we don't have Dalvin Cook on our team, and we don't have four- and five-star recruits on our team. We don't have first-round NFL draft picks on our team.''
Herman said his players ''have grown up kind of being the underdog'' and ''embrace'' the role.
Houston was ranked lower than any other one-loss team in AP's final regular-season Top 25 poll. A loss, especially if by a big margin, would be seen by some as validation of that low ranking.
But a win over Florida State would certainly change things for Houston, especially its doubters.
''I would think this would silence a lot of people,'' Ward said. ''I'm sure a lot of people have doubt because they're Florida State and they have a spear on the side of their helmet.''
Even so, Herman said one game shouldn't determine national respect for the Cougars.
''I think win, lose or draw, we've established our validity in college football,'' he said.
Florida State (10-2, No. 9 CFP), which won the 2013 national championship, is accustomed to playing in one of the six bowls in the College Football Playoff rotation. The Seminoles lost to Oregon in last season's Rose Bowl semifinal.
Coach Jimbo Fisher said being cast as the favorite is no advantage on the field.
''If you're the favorite, they don't give you those seven points or eight points,'' Fisher said. ''I wish they would, they'd put them up on the board if you're the favorite.''
The Seminoles managed 10 wins despite falling back to the pack in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State lost to Georgia Tech and Clemson and looked less than dominant in narrow wins over Boston College, Wake Forest and Miami.
A key win came on Nov. 14 when quarterback Sean Maguire came off the bench against North Carolina State to replace Everett Golson with the Seminoles trailing 17-7 in the second quarter. Maguire led Florida State to 27 unanswered points and kept the starting job the remainder of the regular season.
''That's a guy you've got to respect,'' Cook said of Maguire. ''He's our leader on the team.''
Maguire will start on Thursday as Golson, a senior transfer from Notre Dame, is not with the team due to personal reasons. A strong performance would solidify Maguire's status as the favorite to keep the starting job in 2016.
Herman said he was ''star struck'' when he and Fisher attended a Bobby Dodd Foundation dinner on Tuesday night. Among the former coaches at the event were Ralph Friedgen, Bobby Ross and Bill Curry.
''I'm just looking around the room saying to myself, well, which one of these guys in here doesn't belong?'' Herman said. ''And I kept coming back to me.''
It's not the way Herman views his team.
Houston is an underdog, but Herman believes the Cougars belong among the nation's elite teams.
AP College Football website: collegefootball.ap.org