Finally back in Top 25, No. 20 Houston working to stay there

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No. 20 Houston is determined to stay in the Top 25 after being ranked for the first time in three years.

“I’m anxious to see how our team responds being in the position that we’re in,” coach Dana Holgorsen said, looking forward to Saturday night’s American Athletic Conference matchup against South Florida.

“We’re usually underdogs, and we’re usually playing with a chip on our shoulders,” Holgorsen added. “We’re in a little different spot, and we have to handle that if we want to continue to stay in the situation that we are in.”

The Cougars (7-1, 5-0) have won seven straight following a season-opening loss to Texas Tech. They’re ranked for the first time since October 2018 after upsetting previously unbeaten SMU 44-37 last week.

Houston started 7-1 that season, too, before losing four of five games down the stretch.

It’s been a long road back to the Top 25.

The Cougars are 14-14 in three seasons under Holgorsen, who welcomes the added attention and expectations that come with being ranked.

“Your goal is to win, and if you do, then you’re eventually going to get ranked like that. You can’t avoid it, so you might as well embrace it. It’s good for the program,” Holgorsen said.

“We finally got to that point. It would be a shame to slip up right now and not do what our part is,” the coach added. “I’m just talking about preparation. Every game’s going to be a battle.”

South Florida (2-6, 1-3) is a 13½-point underdog, though Holgorsen describes the Bulls as “much improved” from a year ago, when the Cougars trounced them 56-21 at Houston.

“It’s a totally different team. They got a lot of guys back. They got some new guys that have stepped in and played a lot this year,” Holgorsen added “They play hard. They’re in every game. Close games against good teams that we’ve played.”

USF, in its second season under Scott, is beginning a tough, year-ending stretch that also includes games against second-ranked Cincinnati and intrastate rival UCF.

“Many people may look at that and see a lot of challenges and adversity, but I choose to see it as opportunity,” Scott said.

“Everybody’s got to take ownership in this. I feel like we went from a year ago where we probably didn’t belong on the field with them … to now a year later and we belong,” the USF coach added. “But it’s not enough to belong. Now it comes down to playing well” and winning.

STREAKING

Houston’s seven-game winning streak is the school’s longest since the Cougars won eight straight spanning the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Scott is impressed.

“They’re No. 4 in the country in total defense,” Scott . They’re No. 1 in the country is third-down defense, giving up 25 percent conversions on the season. They’re 10th in the country is rush defense and they’re 18th in the country in pass defense.”

TAKING A SHOT

USF hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since upsetting (No. 22) Navy in 2015. The Bulls have lost 17 straight to teams in the Top 20 since winning at (No. 16) Notre Dame in 2011.

FANTASTIC FINISH

Houston QB Clayton Tune threw for a career-best 412 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars’ big win over SMU. WR Nathaniel Dell had nine catches for 165 yards and three TDs, however Houston didn’t seal the win until Marcus Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards for a clinching TD with 17 seconds remaining.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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