ATLANTA — By now, you've heard plenty about Houston head coach Tom Herman.
You've seen his ability to lead dynamic offenses, including the Cougars' this year and Ohio State's last year. You've heard about him spurning other opportunities over the last two months to stay at Houston. You've checked out pictures of his grill.
After Houston's 38-24 win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on Thursday afternoon, you need to discuss him prominently with the best head coaches in the country regardless of division, because he's earned it.
"It's the greatest win in my life," Herman said on the field after the win. "Hats off to our staff, our players and our administration. It feels incredible."
Herman's Cougars (13-1) controlled the Peach Bowl from the outset.
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. scored two of his three touchdowns in the first half, wide receiver Demarcus Ayers connected with Chance Allen on a no-look double-reverse touchdown pass, the defense held stud running back Dalvin Cook to just 33 yards, and the Seminoles' 16 rushing yards as a team was their sixth-worst rushing performance since 2000.
"From a program standpoint, it puts us on the national radar," Ayers said. "I know these guys are going to come back and compete next year on the national stage and make people believe in us."
Herman is going to make people believe.
His offense faced a tough test against the fast Seminoles defense. Herman dialed up play after play, including two completions by Ward on 3rd-and-long situations on a critical drive early in the fourth quarter and a perfect quarterback draw from backup Kyle Postma on 3rd-and-7 late in the fourth that went for 29 yards down to the 2-yard line.
"It means everything," Ward said. "It all paid off. We all bought into Coach Herman's plan, and it paid off."
As Bleacher Report National College Football Writer Bryan Fischer pointed out on Twitter, the Cougars put up more points than any opponent has against the Seminoles all year—by far.
Bryan Fischer @BryanDFischer
Houston has scored two touchdowns more than anybody else FSU has played this season.12/31/2015, 8:41:30 PM
While Herman is known for offense, it was the defense that stole the show Thursday.
Cook was constantly forced to change direction in the backfield, Seminoles quarterbacks Sean Maguire and J.J. Cosentino were under constant pressure, and the Cougars notched eight tackles for loss.
"We want to get offenses behind the chains so that we can force them into predictable third downs," Herman said. "Then we can get exotic and get fun. It was a great game plan. It was tremendously executed by our players. That's a physical outfit, and our guys rose to the occasion."
This wasn't the exception for Houston; it was the trend.
Herman's crew coming in had allowed 381.3 yards and just 20.5 points per game, playing most of its games in the offensively driven American Athletic Conference.
"It's just a big step for this program," Postma said. "We've been trying to work on getting a bigger name as we started this season. Coming out and doing this is a great step forward for our program, and we're just trying to get bigger and bigger every year."
Houston's win wasn't a case of an undermanned team taking advantage of an injured quarterback. It was a team that's overmatched from a talent standpoint mentally and physically dominating one of the most talented teams in the country. It was one of the best coaches in America proving he belongs at the big-boy table.
Is he at the head?
Of course not. That seems to rotate between Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban. But Herman belongs in the same conversation as Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Clemson's Dabo Swinney.
He won a national title as an offensive coordinator for Ohio State despite some major quarterback challenges and has brought Houston to a place where only Boise State has been before among non-Power Five schools.
Not only is Houston winning at that level, but it's recruiting like a power. The Cougars have 21 commits already lined up in 2016 and a top-25 recruiting class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.
Jake Trotter @Jake_Trotter
At least Tom Herman isn’t bringing in a Top 25 recruiting class…. Oh wait...12/31/2015, 8:47:51 PM
It isn't just a cute little Group of Five story anymore. Houston is a budding power with a phenomenal coach who's one of the best in the business.
Houston doesn't have a problem; Power Five programs have a problem. His name is Tom Herman.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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