A fifteen year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Houston

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…


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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Rice vs UTEP – Owls bury the Miners…

Friday afternoon I set out on the road from San Marcos towards Houston, opting for the rolling backroads of Central Texas in lieu of I-10. Cruising smooth ribbons of asphalt along State Highway 71, I zip through iconic Texas towns like Bastrop and Brenham bypassing hordes of Dairy Queens that mark each little downtown.

I stop only once, for lunch, at Zimmerhanzels BBQ in Smithville. Tucked inside the innocuous orange steel building lies some of the finest BBQ in Texas, along with an equally impressive collection of deer mounts. An old timer hobbles in line in front of me, dressed in crisp blue Dickies and a check pattern shirt, his deep wrinkled face bearing eons of work in the sun. An obvious regular, the counter girl recognizes him and offers a cheery “your usual chopped sandwich Jim?” Without a word the man nods, and the spunky girl drops his sandwich on the orange plastic cafeteria tray as he shuffles on down the line. Not a word spoken and the man gets a spread of some of Texas’ finest BBQ….impressive.

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I opt for a combo of their brisket and sausage, arranged neatly behind glass display cases, waiting as the counter girl carves the meat to order. I pay cash at the end of the line (they take no plastic in these parts) then retreat to an arrangement of small school tables they have for dine-in customers. A few minutes later, the lunch rush pours in from an armada of heavy duty pickup trucks parked outside, wrangler jeans and muddy work boots spilling into the doorway – always a good sign.


Pressing further east into Brenham, the wheel of the rental car swerves into the parking lot of the Blue Bell ice cream factory in a screeching cloud of dust. No stranger to a scoop, I saunter in for a few samples from the Texas ice cream staple. They have a few seasonal items on the menu, and I’m tempted into a couple modest cups of the chocolate cherry and spiced pumpkin pecan, generously doled out by the counter girl for a buck apeice. A few pints for the road look tempting, but against a few hours of hot Texas sun in the car, they stand no chance.

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A few hours later, after braving the afternoon traffic on the outskirts of Houston, I meet up with my friend Brian. The same friend of Georgia fame from last year, when we’d witnessed the Dawgs vs LSU nail biter in Athens after pre-gaming between the hedges. While a pair of games at Rice and Houston didn’t have quite the same appeal as a duo of SEC juggernauts, he agreed to come along anyway and even offered to put a roof over my head for the weekend.

After a quick handshake, he guides me into the gated garage of his upscale apartment complex where I carefully squeeze my shitbox rental into a numbered parking space between a couple of exotic import cars. A Whole Foods Market is connected to the same building, and a few other high end shops dot the neighborhood. After being hosted by a handful of different friends this year in nicer parts of town, clearly I’ve become accustomed to some of the finer things. A college football bon vivant, if you will…

While the apartment might be swanky, my tastes remain humble, and we pop the caps of a few Shiners – that delightful Texas nectar – to get the night underway. I stuff a sack full of rain gear between sips, as the forecast for the entire weekend predicts nearly continuous bouts of rain. After a couple of brews, we order a car through Uber, a far more palatable alternative than the nightmarish traffic and parking in Houston – a city which simply grew too fast for its infrastructure. But the ride proves anything but easy, as the clueless driver struggles with the complex nuances of voice navigated, turn by turn GPS, and I’m forced to bark out instructions from the back seat.

We circle Rice Stadium for a few minutes, the parking lots all but vacant on a drizzly Friday night. With a stated capacity of 47,000, the stadium is far bigger than expected for the Owls program, and the hulking concrete grandstands towering overhead as stadium lights glow in the mist. We mill around for a few minutes until I spot what I’m looking for, a pair of free tickets from a kind woman in a navy blue Rice hoodie. Entering the stadium, we bypass the first deck, however, opting instead to hike up to the second level on the elusive myth of beer sales. A few amber colored, draught Ziegenbocks confirm the rumor, and we settle into the open grandstands as the Owls storm onto the field through an inflatable blue tunnel in front of a meager audience.


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With the field a bit greasy, the contest starts slowly as both teams struggle for position in the first quarter. The game picks up in the second frame, however, as the Owls finally start moving the ball on a pair of nice drives. Serviceable Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson connects with his favorite target, a speedy wide receiver named Mario Hull, who tallies up 150 yards on the night and a touchdown catch. While the Owls had several chances to close out the Miners, they keep the sloppy contest interesting before finally closing out the orange clad foes from the with a final score of Rice 31 UTEP 13. With the win, the Rice Owls have secured bowl eligibility and a trip to the post season!

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During a break in the action, I climb a few rows up the stands to meet up with Jarrett and Al; a couple of college football fanatics that I’d located through their blog www.collegefootballquest.com. They’re easy enough to spot, as Jarrett is garbed in a signature blue Florida Gators cap, and the aluminum bleachers are all but empty. On a quest to see a game in every college stadium in the country, the dynamic duo has made it to about 27 venues so far and they keep an impressive running list of favorite spots and commentary on their website.


Averaging about 5-6 games a year, the “Questers” take a more methodical approach than my exhausting weekly blitzkrieg. Slow and steady is the name of their race, and they anticipate completing the goal around 2030, no small feat when trying to coordinate schedules around two sets of wives, children and careers. Located on Long Island, Al and Jarrett share a similar logistical challenge as I in getting to games from the college football vacuum of the northeast and their woes of airline travel ring all too familiar. We spend a few minutes chatting, swapping stories about shared adventures and future plans, some of which may overlap in the pacific Northwest in the near future. It’s yet another incredibly rare opportunity to connect with some of the few other people in the world as fanatical about exploring the sport as I am.



Special thanks to my friend Brian (pictured) for hosting me for the weekend, and agreeing to come along to a few games that a lot of other folks might pass up. Can’t wait to hit a few more with you next year man!

Thanks to the College Football Quest crew for finally getting to say hello in person and being as devoted to their journey as I am. Also, thanks for tipping me off about the early Houston kickoff time the next day. Can’t wait for our paths to cross again fellas!
Full Clickthrough Gallery Below:

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Virgie’s Barbecue – Houston we have liftoff…

I had to be in Houston on Friday, and while Houston is nowhere close to Baylor, I naturally stopped in for a couple of Barbecue meals and thought they were deserving of review. Since my reviews thus far have eluded the Houston area, I wanted to include them on the blog should you find yourself in the area with an appetite for some barbecue. This was the first joint I hit.

Among most Texas Barbecue aficionados, the big cities – both Dallas and Houston, are considered black holes for finding proper Texas cue’. The elite barbecue game is traditionally dominated by the small town Texas markets that dot these rural mainstreets. And as it should be. Unlike Dallas, however, Houston has emerged with a handful of places that have met with approval from the more discerning taste buds of Texas chowhounds. Virgie’s Barbecue is one such establishment, so I anxiously waited in the parking lot tormented by plumes of smoke for 15 minutes before the doors opened for an early 11AM lunch.

Virgie’s is a small shanty in the Northwest corner of Houston, and judging by the prevalence of full sized domestic pickup trucks in the lot, a popular lunchtime spot for work crews. Though they don’t have an open smokeroom inside, the entire restaurant is filled with the enticing aroma of smoke, which delightfully, even permeates the restrooms. Orders are placed from a small counter, and despite craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the pits, I couldn’t get a peek. Were they not so busy I may have requested a tour, but instead I ordered up my usual trifecta of ribs, brisket and sausage.

True to its reputation, Virgie’s is a place that does it right. The sausage was a hot link style, which had a nice peppery heat to it without being overwhelming. My only wish is that places with decent sausage wouldn’t pre-slice their links, as it tends to dry out a bit. The ribs, although on the smaller side, were well cooked and infused with smoke. The brisket slices were meaty, with a perfect pink smoke ring and charred black crust. While they may appear a touch on the fatty side, the brisket was so well cooked that the fat peeled easily away leaving tender bites of moist, smoky beef.

The moral of the story is not to shun Houston from the barbecue world, because evidently there are some “city slickers” in town that know how to smoke some meat. If Virgie’s is any indication, there is some quality cue’ to be had in H-Town, and you should give it a shot next time you find yourself there.


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