Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Texas (page 1 of 3)

Houston vs Tulsa – Cougars rock the Golden Hurricanes…


It’s Saturday morning in Houston, and I’m on the third leg of a tripleheader weekend in Texas – an American Athletic Conference matinee featuring the University of Houston pitted against the University of Tulsa. The previous two nights had brought me to Texas State and Rice, both of them pattered with intermittent bouts of rain. A quick glance at the black sky swirling above the Space City portends yet another menacing afternoon.

 
The good folks at the Cougar scheduling department felt the same way, when, only a day before the contest, they moved the late afternoon tilt against the aptly named “Golden Hurricanes” up to an 11AM start time.  Were it not for the hot tip from my college football brethren at College Football Quest I might have missed the third installment of my Texas Trinity weekend.  While TV networks have been known to wreak havoc on a schedule only weeks before the game, this is my first such encounter with a weather change the day before.

 
As if my general contempt for early morning start times wasn’t enough, a refrain which I have echoed on this site many times before, some extra Ziegenbocks at the Rice game the night before has left me knocking a few cobwebs out of my head.  But as Brian, my host for the weekend, dons his best apron and deftly doles out a generous helping of scrambled eggs loaded with jalapeño cheese sausage from Kreuz Market, spirits improve quickly.  Just as the talking heads from ESPN College Game Day start their morning shtick, we head out the door for kick.

 
Taking another Uber through one of the seedier parts of town (Houston is one of the largest cities in the world without a subway system), we roll past hot chicken stands and colorfully painted bodegas. Broken concrete sidewalks flank some of the dilapidated houses propped up on concrete blocks, while vacant lots in between are overgrown with weeds and cluttered with debris.  Located in the Third Ward of Houston, an area which boasts one of the worst violent crime rates in the country, the neighborhood surrounding the UH campus isn’t a place that you’d want to wander around much after dark, or even daylight for that matter.

 
Approaching Cougar Stadium, dubbed a tongue twisting TDECU Stadium, the grandstands sparkle in stark contrast to the ramshackle neighborhood as the newly constructed erector set architecture rises high above the surrounding buildings. Opened earlier this year in 2014, after replacing 70 year old Robertson Stadium on the same ground, it’s the newest stadium I’ve attended on my travels. The smell of fresh paint and concrete still wafts through the air in TDECU, and concessions are plentiful. Shorthand for Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, the backers shelled out 15 million bucks over the next ten years to have their name emblazoned on the side of the building.

 
Despite the shiny new building, however, the Houston program enjoys some rich tradition given its relatively small stature in the college football world. Cougar fans have been treated to some of the most prolific quarterbacks in the college ranks during the past few decades. 1989 Heisman winner Andre Ware wore the Scarlet Red, setting 26 NCAA records during his campaign season in the early days of the Run and Shoot offense. His successor in the early 1990’s, David Klingler, tallied even greater mind boggling numbers under the same offense – at one time chucking 11 touchdown passes in a single game, and setting career NCAA records for yardage and touchdown completions at the time (he still ranks in the top 10 today).

 
Recently, gunslinger Case Keenum smashed the NCAA career yardage mark in 2011, tallying over 19,000 yards during his career and eclipsing former Hawaii great Timmy Chang by over 2,000 yards. He also went on to set NCAA career records in touchdowns (155) and completions (1,546) during a career that spanned six seasons and two redshirts in Houston. Even the past two head coaches have used the Cougar program as a stepping stone to higher profile jobs. Offensive guru Art Briles (2003-2007) was plucked out of the high school ranks prior to taking over the reins in Houston, and currently oversees the revival of the high octane Baylor Bears. His successor at the helm, Kevin Sumlin (2007-2011), graduated to the Texas A&M job down the road after a successful four year stint in Cougartown – a stay which was capped by a 12-0 regular season in 2011.

 
Back on the street, I grab a pair of tickets from a scalper for ten bucks a pop, a deal I probably could have negotiated better, but they’re the first tickets I’ve paid for all weekend and it’s too early in the morning for protest. Finding our seats on the 5 yard line, the Cougars storm out of the tunnel while the listless crowd continues to file in, some folks still clutching a morning coffee. With darkened skies and low overhanging mist, the stadium lights are turned on, even in late morning.

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Fortunately, the lone bright spot on this dark day is the action on the field. The Cougars come out screaming, kicking off the first quarter with a nice pair of sustained, eighty yard touchdown drives. Running back tandem Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson trade carries, marching down the field as quarterback Greg Ward Jr. manages the game efficiently. Despite the offensive struggles this season from the historically prolific Cougar offenses, embroiled head coach Tony Levine has them running productively today.

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Despite coughing the ball up three times, however, the Tulsa squad hangs around – refusing to be put away. Deep into the 4th quarter, with seven minutes remaining, they knot the game at 28 apiece. Cougar fans grow restless, groaning at the late score, but their team has an answer. Assuming control of the ball deep in their own territory on an ill-advised kickoff return, Houston begins their march at the 11 yard line. They methodically rip off chunks of yardage down the field, balancing crisp passes with well timed runs when the defense leans on their heels. With the ball on the Tulsa 40 yard line, the Cougars break the Hurricane defense, connecting on a beautiful 38 yard pass to wide receiver Kevin Dunbar down to the Tulsa 2. Punching in the touchdown one play later, Houston caps off an 10 play, 89 yard drive that snaps the remaining spirit of the Tulsa squad. They roll on to win by a final of 38-28.

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Immediately following the game, Brian and I bee line to Killen’s BBQ in nearby Pearland.  While truly world class BBQ has historically eluded the city of Houston, Killen’s has been receiving high praise since opening its doors earlier this year. Started by Houston steakhouse owner Ronnie Killen, the confident pitmaster set his sights firmly on BBQ that could rival Aaron Franklin’s in a well-publicized conversation with the Houston Chronicle, and the entire staff dons black t-shirts embellished with the phrase “the best barbecue, period.” Judging by the behemoth reverse flow Lang smoker parked out back accompanied by a healthy stack of post oak cordwood, the place certainly shows promise.

 

Arriving in later afternoon, we’re well past the lunch rush line, and stride directly up to the cafeteria style counter. I order my usual “Texas Trinity” of beef brisket, pork ribs, and house made sausage – the three main criteria upon which all BBQ joints should be evaluated. They’re unfortunately sold out of beef ribs, but a few slices of smoked pork belly catch enough intrigue for an order, along with a couple bottles of ice cold Big Red soda.

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Watching a few juicy slices of brisket fold off the carvers knife, and it’s apparent this place is legitimate before the food is even tasted. Carnage ensues as Brian and I retreat to a nearby table, grabbing fistfuls off carnivorous delight off the heaping tray. The pork belly is impossibly rich, almost too much so, as the buttery fat drips from every bite. Pork ribs feature a quarter inch pink smoke ring around the meat, while the sausage snaps with each peppery bite. The brisket steals the show. Slices from both the point and the (trickier to cook) flat are moist, perfectly rendered and bursting with smoke. A nice peppery bark caps all the slices, pairing perfectly with offset pulls from the sweet nectar of Big Red. This is, by any measure, some of the best BBQ in Texas – and therefore the world.

 
Gobbling down the last few morsels of Texas barbecue, it’s a fitting end to a three game parlay in the Lone Star State – a place which boasts twelve FBS teams in all. Fortunately, I still have a few schools left to see here, and I’ll gladly take that excuse for another weekend full of meat trays and football…

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Special thanks to my friend Brian for hosting me for the weekend, and can’t wait to catch a few more games with you next year man!!!

 

Full Clickthrough gallery below:

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Texas vs Oklahoma – Red River Rivalry

There are a handful of questions that I never say no to.

Would you like bacon on that?

Another beer?

Do you want to join Kimberly and I for Texas versus Oklahoma, we have 2nd row tickets on the 50 yard line?

The last query was posed by my friend Jared a few weeks ago, and a quick glance at my schedule revealed I had originally scheduled a game at Northwestern. As exciting as a trip to Evanston sounded, getting another chance to witness one of the greatest rivalries in College Football sounded far more enticing. Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza would have to wait, and by the end of the weekend I would answer “yes” to all three of the questions posed above.

A few clicks of the mouse later, and onto a Southwest 737 I stepped for a cramped Friday night flight into the Big D. Jared greeted me at the clustered terminal outside Love Field, an unspoiled tribute to vintage 1980’s décor. Fighting our way out of airport traffic we headed 40 minutes north to Frisco, a northern suburb of Dallas well beyond the bright shiny lights of downtown. Land of minivans and mini malls, we contemplated a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond before agreeing beer sounded like a more palatable choice.

Held annually at the Texas State Fairgrounds, the Red River Rivalry; rebranded from the former “Red River Shootout” in a knee jerk PC response to gun violence, is easily one of the biggest rivalries in College Football. The dazzling spectacle of “Big Tex” is the perfect backdrop for the contest, as the unbridled frenzy in the stands is matched only by the indulgence and gluttony of the fair itself, considered the largest fair in the United States. In addition to the usual games, rides and exhibition halls, in true Texan fashion, deep fried foods are a staple of the fair experience. Vendors proffer their battered creations in every corner, ranging from usual favorites like onion rings and dough, to exotic deep fried specialties like Twinkies, smores, peanut butter and jelly, bacon, butter (yes deep fried butter), coca cola and even beer.

The Red River Rivalry is one of the few occasions where a neutral site actually works for the better. While I am a staunch traditionalist, maintaining that virtually all college football games be hosted on campuses, Texas vs. OU weekend may as well be a national holiday in Dallas. Located equidistantly three hours from each respective campus, fans from both schools are able to meet in the middle and partake in the revelry each season. The entire city of Dallas draws sides, as the streets flood with fans from each squad, crowding into every bar and restaurant in town draped in affiliated team colors. A few squabbles break out here and there as they are likely to do, but as a whole, the city is one giant party for the entire weekend.

Fighting some early Saturday morning traffic, we navigated our way into the fairgrounds, jostling amongst the mixed crowd of burnt orange and crimson. Along the sidewalk a few cleverly sarcastic Texas fans taunted Oklahoma visitors with a Toby Keith CD attached to a string, dragging the case along the ground like trolled fishing bait. Not sure how many bites they got, but it drew plenty of chuckles. We had time for only a few early morning beers, as the contest kicks off promptly at 11AM, presumably to prevent the two fan bases from getting completely saturated. Braving the mob stacked outside the entrance, as older stadiums are apt to have, we slowly shuffled our way into the ancient Cotton Bowl with 96,000 others. Descending down another thirty rows or so, we assumed our seats in the 3rd row, right on the Maginot line delineating the Texas/OU divide, rubbing shoulders against a few visored Crimson admirers.

Despite its magnitude, one of the big misconceptions about the game is crowd noise, which is considerably quieter than a typical home environment for either of these two schools. The ticket distribution is split 50/50 between the two, with a perfect line of demarcation separating the burnt orange fans from the crimson at the 50 yard line. This split creates a unique dynamic within the stadium, for at any given time only half the stadium is cheering, while the other half stands hushed (or heckling) in frustration.

Texas proved the quieter side on this day, as the Sooners put up the most lopsided score since 2003. They dominated the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, Texas compounding their mistakes by shuffling quarterbacks and coughing up five turnovers en route to a 55-17 drubbing. Midway through the third quarter, the North side of the stadium began heading for the exits. Jared and Kimberly, both ardent Texas supporters had soon seen enough as well, and they pried me from the ringside seats for some cold refreshment as the clock skipped into the 4th quarter.


Navigating our way through the various food vendors I bypassed the iconic corn dogs and funnel cake, bee lining for a post game snack fit for a Viking. For 18 State Fair coupons, or nine bucks according to the latest FOREX exchange rates, I walked away with a smoked turkey leg the size of a forearm. Salty, smoky and certainly hefty, it was soon paired with a Firemans #4 Blonde Ale from Real Ale Brewing Company. Meat and beer, the timeless combination and perfect post game snack before our retreat back north among the reckless Central Expressway traffic. Now we just have to swing into Bed Bath and Beyond for a quick stop…


Special thanks as always to my friends Jared and Kimberly, always great to catch a Texas game with you guys, and perhaps the Horns’ will fare better next year. Can’t wait until our next Burnt Orange adventure…

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Texas vs Texas A&M – A Texas Turkey Day Tilt

While many of you were lounging around with a five thousand calorie turkey hangover, I was diligently behind the wheel on my way down to see the most heated rivalry in Texas College Football. Unfortunately, all my favorite barbecue haunts were shut down for the day so in lieu of the turkey dinner, I opted for a chicken sandwich at the Whataburger during the three hour jaunt down to Austin. Ah, the untold glamour of the Pigskin Pursuit.

 

 

This was the first game of a three game, three day odyssey during Thanksgiving weekend that would take me to Austin, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska and Columbus, Ohio. That’s Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State for those of you following at home, not a bad way to spend rivalry weekend. Beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

 

Dating back to 1894, the Texas vs Texas A&M matchup is the third longest running rivalry in College Football. Although Texas owns dominance of the series with a 75-36-5 record, this is a heated rivalry that in the state of Texas has undoubtedly caused more than its fair share of family Thanksgiving dinner table squabbles over the last 116 years. In fact, in both school songs “Texas Fight” and the “Aggie War Hymn” each school makes a point to denigrate the other in the lyrics. You may recall our trip down to College Station for this game last year, and you can freshen up on it here:

 

 

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While the Aggies have struggled against the Longhorns the past couple of years, this year set up to be something different. A&M was ranked in the top 20, held a formidable 8-3 record, and a win would put them in contention for the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas on the other hand, has stumbled this year, hampered by an interception prone quarterback, revolving door at tailback and unusually porous defense. Prior to the matchup they carried dismal 5-6 record into the contest, and a loss would knock the Longhorns out of bowl contention for the first time since 1997. Patience is growing thin with the Burnt Orange faithful in Austin, and fans are quick to forget their team played for a National Championship not even a year ago.

 

On an unusually chilly night in Darrel K. Royal stadium, the game lived up to the hype as both teams were embattled in a defensive standoff until late in the second quarter. Aggie running back Cyrus Gray then broke the game open with an explosive 84 yard touchdown run to knot the game at 7-7 heading into halftime. Gray would be a one man highlight reel on the day, as he would later scamper for another 48 yard touchdown run while racking up 223 yards on the ground. Between Gray and injured starter Christine Michael, the Aggie backfield will remain quite formidable for another year. On the Texas side of the ball, the Longhorns struggled to put together any momentum or sustain drives. Predictably, maligned quarterback Garrett Gilbert tossed a pair of interceptions, one of which was a critical game ending pick. Even the Longhorn crowd was discernibly flat on the night, reluctantly cheering meekly for the Horns and routinely being drowned out by the exuberant Maroon faithful and internationally famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.

 

 

This was my second year in a row spending Thanksgiving at the Lonestar Showdown, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than under the lights of some premier College Football in Texas. Though certainly not as rewarding as sharing the day with family lounging around a crackling fire, you’re never alone surrounded by 100,000 or so other rabid college football fans. It’s what the Pilgrims intended.

Special thanks again to my friends Jared and Kimberly. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them and their family for Longhorn games, and hopefully next year will be better fortunes for them in Austin.

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University of Texas: Longhorns vs Bruins

This post will be rather short, because I’m starting to get geared up for the LSU trip this weekend, and because you’ve already seen a handful of posts from me about the Texas Longhorns anyway. I shouldn’t have to tell you that Austin is one of the premier College game day destinations in the country, and I certainly don’t need any motivation to head down there on a fall Saturday. This past weekend, the Longhorns were looking to avenge their last meeting with UCLA which came way back in 1997, when the Bruins mauled the Longhorns 66-3.

Unfortunately, this outcome was largely similar to the last meeting as UCLA scorched the burnt orange to the tune of 34-12. It really wasn’t even that close as UCLA dominated Texas on both sides of the ball, and handed them an extremely rare home loss during the Mack Brown era. Sloppy play would be an understatement for the Longhorns, as the offense coughed the ball up five times, while the nations alleged #2 rushing defense was stampeded to the tune of 264 rushing yards. It was an embarrassing performance for the Longhorns that Mack Brown and about 100,000 other folks would rather forget.

On another note, when it comes to tailgating, I’d have to put UT fans up there in the elite echelon of places that I have visited. Some of you may think you have this tailgating thing nailed because you show up with a hibachi and slam a few Hebrew Nationals and hockey puck burgers on there. Or perhaps your wife makes her famous cheddar dip and potato salad served on matching team color plasticware?



I have two words for you. Trailer. Smoker.


There is neither rival nor substitute for the meat that comes from a smoker, and until you have one of these, your tailgate is amateur at best. Trailer smokers like the one pictured litter the parking lots in Austin on gameday. They are everywhere, and decked out in all kinds of custom Longhorn colors and accessories. All these smokers puffing away lend a remarkably unique scent to the tailgating scene outside Darrell K. Royal Stadium, and there are few aromas more appetizing than gentle plumes of hardwood smoke chugging out of blackened steel chimneys.




Special thanks to our friends Jared and Kimberly, who are always a pleasure to hang out for any Texas games. Further thanks to her sister Karen for the Austin hospitality and their father Steve for generously helping with tickets to the game.

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