HOUSTON — Tom Herman came to Houston after helping Ohio State to a national championship last season with designs on returning the Cougars to national prominence.
Less than a year later the coach has done exactly that.
Saturday, Herman led No. 17 Houston to a high-profile bowl for the first time in more than 20 years with a 24-13 win over No. 20 Temple in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game.
Cougars quarterback Greg Ward ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns to earn the Cougars a trip to either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl as the "Group of Five" representative (the spot guaranteed for the top team outside Power Five conferences).
"Just an overwhelming sense of pride in our guys and our team," said Herman, who came to Houston after working as the offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. "None of this would be possible without the leaders in that locker room buying in from Day 1 and dragging the rest of the team with them."
Ward raved about Herman and his staff.
"When Coach Herman first came in we knew he had a plan … we are just very happy and fortunate that we have those guys with us," Ward said.
Houston (12-1) jumped to a 17-0 lead with the help of two turnovers by Temple, one capped by a 47-yard touchdown run by Ward.
Temple (10-3) had a chance to get within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Cougars cornerback Jeremy Winchester knocked down a pass in the end zone and the Owls settled for a field goal that made it 24-13.
They had two more chances to cut the deficit after that, but were stopped on fourth down both times.
"This isn't deflating," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "This is one of the most positive days in Temple football history. I wish we would have won, but we got down, and our kids fought back."
Herman hopes the AAC title raises Houston's status in Texas.
"If you want to go somewhere and win a whole bunch of games and win trophies and get rings … the University of Houston is certainly a place to do that," said Herman, who signed a new five-year contract on Friday.