HOUSTON — Houston coach Tom Herman and the Cougars are past the point of proving they are for real.
Shocking the world is for the real underdogs and if a Power Five conference happens to take note of what Houston is doing that’s fine.
“We were prepared to win. We expected to win. We train to win,” Herman said. “It wasn’t about making a statement, it was about going 1-0 the first week of the season.”
Greg Ward Jr., Brandon Wilson and the 15th-ranked Cougars looked every bit ready to compete in the Big 12 — or any other conference for that matter — in a 33-23 victory against No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday.
Houston is one of 11 schools that will meet with Big 12 officials starting next week to make a pitch to the Power Five conference that is pondering expansion.
Regardless of whether Houston (1-0) ends up in the Big 12, the Cougars’ latest surprising win could have season-long ramifications on the College Football Playoff.
“We’re not your typical Group of Five program,” Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said.
The elusive quarterback Ward passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson, though, provided the key play in the biggest regular-season nonconference game the Cougars have played in 25 years and Houston’s third victory in school history against a top-three team.
The versatile senior defensive back went end line to end zone to score a touchdown with a short 54-yard field goal attempt to give Houston 26-17 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
Wilson reached up to catch the ball, barely keeping his feet in bounds. Reminiscent of Auburn’s Kick Six against Alabama in 2013, Wilson went flying out of the end zone and hurdled a fallen teammate to score what went into the books as a 100-yard return.
“I thought I stepped out, but I didn’t,” Wilson said. “I just saw the green grass and I scored.”
Herman said he was looking for penalty flags.
“I was thinking this is too good to be true, surely there’s a flag somewhere,” Herman said.
Oklahoma called a timeout before trying the kick, which Herman said allowed Houston to see the Sooners’ personnel and set up for the return.
“You know you have to cover it, but the personnel on the field isn’t the best cover guys because the best cover guys wouldn’t be able to protect the field goal. So you’re in a little bit of a dilemma,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “I don’t really second-guess. I’ve seen Austin (Seibert) make that quite a few times.”
Oklahoma: The good news for the Sooners is they have plenty of time and opportunities left to make another playoff run. But they need to get things fixed quickly with No. 6 Ohio State in two weeks and No. 13 TCU on Oct 1.
Baker Mayfield threw for 323 yards and two scores for the defending Big 12 champions Oklahoma (0-1). He was 9 for 9 for 162 yards in the first half, but ended up being sacked five times and fumbled once.
Houston: After finishing last season 13-1 with a Peach Bowl victory against Florida State, the Cougars have consecutive victories against top-10 ranked opponents for the first time in school history. Playing outside the Power Five in the American Athletic Conference, Houston still will likely have little margin for error if it wants to force its way into the playoff. But this certainly makes it look possible.
Oklahoma: The Sooners can expect to tumble when the new rankings come out Tuesday, but remember: Oklahoma looked done when it was upset by Texas last season and went on to make the playoff.
Houston: The last time the Cougars were ranked in the top five was 1990, when they reached No. 3. It wouldn’t be shocking see them get there again soon.
Oklahoma: The Sooners get a break next week with a home game against Louisiana Monroe.
Houston: The Cougars face FCS Lamar next Saturday at home, but they might get a little work done for Cincinnati this week, too. The Cougars have a Thursday night road game on short rest against the Bearcats on Sept. 15.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP