DALLAS (AP) Houston followed its first loss of the season to Navy with a narrow victory against Tulsa, a three-touchdown underdog that fell inches short of tying the score in the final seconds on the road.
If the 11th-ranked Cougars want to regain the dominance that carried them into the top 10, coach Tom Herman figures they have to recognize that they will get the opponent's best effort. And that includes SMU on Saturday night.
''We are learning to be the overdog instead of the underdog,'' Herman said. ''It is interesting, you are drawing on different senses to motivate yourself. It's all pride when you are the underdog that is disrespected. There is the pride of the, `Hey, I'm going to prove all of you wrong.' Now it's the pride of, `Hey, we have to prove everybody right.'''
The realistic playoff chances for Houston (6-1, 3-1 American) ended with the loss to Navy. If quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and the Cougars want to rekindle those hopes, they'll need some convincing victories leading into a late-season nonconference showdown with Louisville.
And SMU (2-4, 0-2) is another three-touchdown underdog.
''There is a little rivalry being that we are the only two teams in our conference in the state of Texas,'' Herman said. ''They're going to give us their best shot, and their best shot is good enough to beat us if we're not hitting all our cylinders.''
Things to consider in the resumption of a series that Houston leads 15-3-1 since the Mustangs returned from the so-called death penalty in 1989 and lost to the Cougars 95-21:
FORGET ABOUT IT: Herman says he had ''zero'' interest in news this week that the Big 12 rejected Houston and 10 other schools for possible expansion. The anti-Big 12 reaction in the state was swift, including a rebuke from Gov. Greg Abbott . ''I'm dead serious when I tell you it consumes zero amount of my time, energy, effort or thought at all,'' said Herman, whose name will be prominent in high-profile coaching searches this offseason.
WORKING WARD: The senior standout has more than twice as many rushing attempts as any of the Houston running backs, leading to questions of whether he is being overused. He has 105 carries for 414 yards with six touchdowns. Ward is ninth nationally at 323 yards passing per game. He has 224 attempts and a 70 percent completion rate with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. ''I've had the conversation with the offensive staff about can we win with less read plays maybe,'' Herman said. ''But if we need to win the game, we'll use him.''
SPEAKING OF OVERWORKED: The Cougars still haven't had a bye, and won't until after hosting Central Florida next week. The Louisville showdown comes a Thursday after playing Tulane the preceding Saturday. And SMU is coming off a bye. ''We're playing football for 12 1/2 weeks straight, so it's going to take its toll on their bodies,'' Herman said.
THE FADE ROUTE: SMU stayed close for a half as a double-digit underdog against high-scoring Texas rivals Baylor and TCU. The Mustangs were even with the Bears on the road at 6-6, and trailed the Horned Frogs 6-3 at home. But Baylor, now ranked ninth, outscored SMU 34-7 after halftime for a 40-13 win. TCU pulled away for a 33-3 win after a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half.
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