Houston enjoyed the last day of the bowl week starting off at lunch with the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club. ESPN's Herman Edwardwas was the keynote speaker of the event and delivered a great speech.
Following lunch, head coach Tony Levine, captains Zach McMillian and Kenneth Farrow headed over to Legion Field to take place in the press conference.
The day wrapped up with a Pep Rally at the historic 5 Points area in downtown Birmingham.
The Cougars went to work on their first full day in Birmingham. Houston used Birmingham Southern College's facility for their first practice starting at noon. A portion of the team departed straight from practice and headed to the Birmingham Children's Hospital where both the Cougars and Commodores visited with the patients.
Today's photo gallery: Facebook.
One of the day's highlights came when quarterback David Piland along with the Commodores and coach Franklin walked into the rooms of a Tennessee family, not too excited to see the latter being in-state rivals. Upon coach Levine's arrival, he converted them into Houston fans for the weekend and helped seal the deal by giving the father his own jacket.
Photos from the day: Gallery.
When the 2014 BBVA Compass Bowl takes place, both Houston and Vanderbilt will be in a similar situation in the quarterback department. The two teams looked towards veteran quarterbacks to lead the teams heading into the 2013 season but both veterans will be watching and coaching from the sidelines as freshmen handle the calls because of injuries. Adding to the symmetry, both teams will have a quality running threat as the backup quarterback.
Vanderbilt's Patton Robinette is a redshirt-freshman who started two games while playing in nine. Both starts for the Tennessee native came on the road including Vanderbilt's first win (34-17) at Florida since 1945. A dual-threat under center, Robinette scored six touchdowns with his feet including one of the Commodores most memorable scores of the year with a fake-jump pass scramble on the game-winning play at Tennessee. The righty connected on 58% of his passes (40-of-69) while throwing two touchdowns and three interception and gained 177 yards on 56 carries.
Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels who started 10 games for Vanderbilt, gutted through an ACL injury down the stretch of the season and will be out for the bowl game with surgery. The senior started the final three games of the year as the duo of quarterbacks helped the Commodores win their final four games of the year.
Josh Grady now serves as the backup quarterback. The redshirt sophomore saw time as wide receiver and wildcat quarterback last year and appeared in three games this year.
John O'Korn, named The American Rookie of the Year, ran for only one touchdown on the ground but did most of his damage through the air as he led all true freshmen in passing touchdowns (26) and completions (239) en route to setting school records in both categories. O'Korn took over the role as starter in the third game of the year at Temple and was named a Freshmen All-American by Athlon. The Florida native passed for 2,889 yards on 239-of-399 passing with eight interceptions. He needs just 242 yards to break Kevin Kolb's freshman record (3,131, 2003) for passing yards.
Junior David Piland played his final game in the Red and White at Temple and finished his career with 5,790 yards passing and 41 touchdowns ranking No. 7 in the Houston record books. Piland completed his classwork this December and gradauted with his degree in business administration.
Houston has employed a two-quarterback system this year with O'Korn and fellow true freshman Greg Ward sharing control of the offense. Ward has responded well during in his opportunities passing for 300 yards on 18-of-27 and one touchdown while ranking third on the team with 178 yards rushing on 40 carries for two scores. The dual-threat player turned triple-threat when he was inserted into the lineup at Louisville as a wide receiver. The Tyler, Texas, native finished the year with nine catches for 97 yards and one touchdown.
Both schools have an NFL starter at quarterback this season (Houston - Case Keenum, Houston Texans; Vanderbilt - Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears).
Rowdy Harper and John O'Korn interviewed by Ellie Pardee following Wednesday's practice.
Head coach Tony Levine met with the local media at Tuesday's press conference.
Head coach Tony Levine met with the local media of Birmingham, Ala. yesterday for the BBVA Compass Bowl press conference. Photo Gallery
"When you look at the opportunity to play a program such as Vanderbilt in a January bowl game in a city such as Birmingham, it's the only college football game on that day and nationally televised on ESPN, it's something our staff, coaches and student-athletes are looking forward to as well as our fan base," said Levine. "For me personally, I'm looking forward to this as well since my wife was born and raised in Birmingham. This will be coming back home for us."
"Jay Roberson (Birmingham City Councilor) mentioned it's about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Nashville and there's direct flights from Houston. We make the drive from Houston every summer. When I drive, it's about 10 hours and when my wife does, it's about seven hours. So it's certainly something that can be reached by our fan base as well."
"Thank you for everything and we're really looking forward to coming back in a few weeks."
For UH fans making plans to travel to Birmingham, Ala. for the game, UHAA has all the information you need on hotel accommodations, game tickets and events surrounding the bowl game.
For more informaiton, visit HoustonAlumni.com.
UHAA Friday Night Reception
Saturday, January 4
Houston Accepts BBVA Compass Bowl Invitation
The University of Houston has accepted an invitation to play in the BBVA Compass Bowl at historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday, Jan. 4, against an SEC opponent who will be named later Sunday. The game will kickoff at at 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT and be carried nationally on ESPN and ESPN Radio.
"We are excited to accept an invitation to the BBVA Compass Bowl and look forward to making the trip to Birmingham. Knowing that we will be facing a formidable opponent from the SEC is a great challenge and one that our program is looking forward to. The setting will provide a great atmosphere for our student-athletes and our fans," said Houston head coach Tony Levine.
The BBVA Compass Bowl marks Houston's 22nd bowl appearance and its eight bowl game in the last 11 seasons. Houston won its last bowl game, Tony Levine's first game as the head coach of the Cougars, when it defeated Penn State, 30-14, in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012. The Cougars are 9-11-1 all time in their 22 bowl apperances.
"We are very grateful for the invitation extended to The University of Houston from the BBVA Compass Bowl and we are looking forward to spending time in Birmingham. Bowl games are a great reward and experience for well-deserving student-athletes and we know with the hospitality the BBVA Compass Bowl and the City of Birmingham provide, this will be no exception," University of Houston Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Mack Rhoades. "It will be a great challenge to face off against a team from the SEC and I look forward to our passionate fan base making an impact in the support of our student-athletes and our program."
Houston enters the BBVA Compass Bowl with a record of 8-4 including a mark of 5-3 in The American Athletic Conference. UH finished fourth in its inaugural season in The American.
For more information on BBVA Compass Bowl tickets, fans can call 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647) or 877-COUGAR-5 (268-4275) or visit the Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Athletics/Alumni Center from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Travel packages may include hotel accommodations at an official Houston hotel, ground transportation to and from the game and other package events, admission to official Houston bowl events, bowl game eve reception, pregame tailgate party, BBVA Compass Bowl ticket and more!