Houston hopes maturity keeps it humble and focused

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Houston coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t trying to protect his players from the increased media and attention his program has gotten in the couple weeks since it upset No. 5 Oklahoma State.

Instead, he’s trying to have them embrace it and hopefully get used to it.

“As you win games and as guys start to have success, either individually or collectively, things like that are going to happen,” Sumlin said. “It’s one of those deals where you just have to deal with it. As our program hopefully continues to get better, this becomes the norm and it’s not just something that happens every now and then.”

Houston returns to the field this week for the first time since that upset. It hosts Texas Tech in a game that is sold out and could have the largest turnout of any game that has been seen at Robertson Stadium.

Earlier this week, players watched students stand in line to get the remaining 1,500 tickets that were available. Sumlin said the support from fans and alumni has been something that hasn’t happened during his tenure and something that his players are excited about.

But the team has been careful not too get too wrapped up in its newfound stardom. Sumlin said he addressed the outside talk when the Cougars were picked to win Conference USA back in July and that he addressed in again the Monday after Oklahoma State.

Sophomore running back Bryce Beall said the team also has talked about it amongst themselves and quarterback Case Keenum has been instrumental in keeping everyone focused.

“We’ve talked about it a lot and that’s why a great guy to have around is Case,” Beall said. “He keeps us all humble and he always keeps us together in situations like this and how to handle success is the biggest thing. That’s what we’re trying to do best. We tell each other how to handle this success so we can be more successful in the future.”

Houston is No. 17 in this week’s Associated Press rankings, its first ranking since 1999. There are whispers of the Cougars being a potential BCS buster and Keenum, who led the country in total offense a year ago and is among the leaders for that honor again, a darkhorse for the Heisman.

Beall said this team’s greatest asset is its maturity, something that started to form last year after the team was evacuated from Houston because of a hurricane and struggled to win games because of their displacement. That caused the team to rally in the middle of the season and taught them that they can be fighters.

Sumlin said he saw that maturity surface this year in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State after the Cougars gave up a 24-7 halftime lead and allowed the Cowboys to take a 28-24 lead at the end of the third quarter. Houston didn’t give up like it did a year ago. The team didn't get rattled and outscored the Cowboys 21-7 in the fourth quarter.

“I think our guys are pretty well grounded,” Sumlin said. “I like our focus and our attitude right now. I think, as I said before the season started, our guys have got to grow up and mature in a number of ways, on the field, off the field and how they deal with things. And as we can continue to listen to what we’re talking about in our little building here and not what everyone else is saying about us either right or wrong or good or bad, we’ll be all right. If we start listening to other people about what’s going on and what they think about us then we’ve got problems.”