BYU's mid-October trip to Houston may not be the best trip of the daunting 2013 schedule, but it still beats a mid-October trip to Albuquerque. I don't often make public predictions about games, but for this one, I'd bet my mortgage the Cougars win.
I was also pretty excited that BYU is playing in an MLB city in October, which means a football game AND a chance to see some playoff baseball! But alas, I then realized this was Houston, home of the AL cellar dwelling Astros, which meant... Playoffs? We're talkin' bout playoffs? Ok, never mind. I'll assume this will be a football only trip.
Special thanks David Bassity, UH Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, and Andrew Pate from The Daily Cougar for their willingness to help with this guide.
GETTING TO HOUSTON
This is one of the easier destinations to get to this season. Houston has two large airports, each with multiple direct flights from SLC. You can fly Delta/American into IAH (Bush) or Southwest into HOU (Hobby). I'd definitely suggest a rental car for this trip. Houston's light rail is decent, but definitely not the same coverage as the NYC Subway or the T in Boston.
WHERE TO STAY
The game will be played near Downtown Houston, so hotels shouldn't be a problem for fans. Reliant Stadium is just south of downtown and located along the south side of the "Medical District." Recommended hotels in that specific area include:
Hilton Medical Center: Nicer hotel that's very close.
Royal Sonesta (Galleria): 10-15 minutes from stadium, located in a prime shopping area.
Marriott Hobby Airport: Quality hotel that is easily accessible for travelers.
If you don't want to stay close to the stadium, you can access the METRO light rail system from many points in town. The rail system will get you from anywhere near downtown to the stadium in 10-15 minutes.
WHERE TO EAT
Since Houston is a large city, there's obviously tons of food choices. The locals recommended the following:
Irma's Southwest Grill: I'd bet this blows Café Rio away.
Demeris BBQ: Never can go wrong eating BBQ while in Texas. Two locations, family owned.
BB's Café or Ragin Cajun: Favorites of the UH Cajun fans.
Firkin & Phoenix: Local pub with excellent food. 12 LCD TV's and 5 projectors on game day.
Lucky's Pub: A UH fan fave for a more relaxed sports bar type setting.
Pappa's Burger: Local burger joint that UH fans enjoy.
WHAT TO DO & SEE
The Johnson Space Center and NASA headquarters are on most visitors lists when visiting Houston. Houston is also known for its Museum District which offers 19 museums in a 1.5 mile radius and is located close to the world renowned Houston Zoo where Shasta, UH's live cougar mascot is housed.
Fans recommended the Museum of Natural Science as one of the better stops. The Houston Aquarium and the Bayou Live Center are also located close to each other on the northwest side of Houston and for the shoppers, The Galleria is one of the Nation's largest malls.
For fans looking to hit the town Friday night, Midtown is the place to be. The biggest crowds of fans will be at Celtic Gardens, Howl at the Moon, The Drinkery and Dogwood. I'm guessing most of you won't want to spend much time in the bars, but from my experiences, strolling the streets in these areas can really be a lot of fun and a great way to see the town from a non-tourist perspective.
My Dr. Pepper and I had a good time mingling in the nightlife in both Austin, TX and on Beale Street in Memphis. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, you may surprise yourself and enjoy seeing what's out there. Just don't get too carried away...
Generally, UH is known for a big tailgate presence. However, this season the scene may be a bit watered down as games will be played off campus while the Cougars have a brand-new Robertson Stadium under construction. Since UH will be spending the full season away from their own campus, not even the locals were quite sure how the tailgating would play out.
In past seasons, undergrad students tailgated on one side of Robertson Stadium, while alumni and friends had the other. However this season it appears all will merge into one lot. The rules for your tailgating experience will be dictated by Reliant Stadium policies.
Reliant Stadium holds 71,000 fans, so getting in won't be a problem. You can obtain tickets through BYU directly, or if we sell out our allotment, UH's ticket office has plenty. It can be reached at 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647). Also note that ticket scalping is illegal in the city of Houston, so purchase tickets directly from one of the schools.
Houston gameday traditions will also take a hit this season due to games being held off campus. With that said, BYU is in town for Homecoming this season, so there will still be a bit of fanfare to take in. UH will be hosting a small parade outside Reliant Stadium before the game. Any other traditions will take place inside the stadium during the game.
THOUGHTS ON UH AND BYU
Houston fans are excited but cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season, their first in the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Two seasons ago, Houston had a 13-1 season and was just one win away from a BCS bowl. After the loss of a number of talented seniors including NCAA record holder Case Keenum and a change in head coaches, Houston had an unwelcome 5-7 season last year.
Since last season ended, optimism has abounded in the Bayou City as UH signed its highest recruiting class yet, including Florida Offensive Player of the Year, QB John O'Korn.
As far as the BYU game, it is definitely seen as an exciting game. It comes at the midpoint of the Houston season and several Houston fans have it circled on their calendar. This season, Houston is also hosting SMU (rivalry game) and Cincinnati, so that may take away a little luster from the BYU game.
I'm a bit torn about our trip to Houston this season. On the positive side, watching a game in an NFL stadium is a great experience. Those of you who attended either game at Cowboy's Stadium or The Q in San Diego can attest to the big time feel. Houston also is a better place to spend a weekend away from the bubble than say, Logan, UT.
However, having the game off campus will definitely hurt the usual college atmosphere a bit and the locals seem to fear this as well. One of my favorite parts about all of these trips is the electricity that you can feel on any campus leading up to kickoff. This may be the one trip this season that doesn't really have a lot of build up or excitement around it.
I'll most likely be in Houston to witness a little Coug on Coog action, however if I had to pick one road game this season to miss, this would probably be it. With that said, I've thought that same thing about venues before and been very wrong in my judgment (Ole Miss), so I'll keep an open mind and hope that I'm wrong.
Stay tuned for more travel guides, as Presten will be hitting all the out-of-state road stops on BYU's schedule.