UH has changed conferences five times previously


On September 2, UH Football begins its new journey as a member of the Big 12 Conference. The 2023 season will be the sixth time UH has transitioned into a new league (seventh conference overall).

In 1949, the Cougars left the Lone Star Conference and moved to the Gulf Coast Conference. Playing at Public School Stadium, the Cougars lost to William & Mary, 14-13, thanks to a blocked PAT. UH lasted one year in the GCC and played just three games in the league, going 1-2. In the season finale, UH beat the Saint Louis Billikens, 35-0, the program’s last football game ever.

1949 vs William and Mary. #44 is UH tackle Bernard Purdum // Houstonian Yearbook

In 1951, UH was on the move again, their third league in six years. The Coogs joined the Missouri Valley and faced #9 Baylor at Rice Stadium to open the season. The 1952 Houstonian Yearbook suggests that the Cougars “played possibly as fine and certainly as determined a game as they’ve ever turned in” against the Bears but lost 19-0.

Houston turned it around, beating Border Conference champion Texas Tech, 6-0, and MVC ‘rival’ Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). With just a 5-5 record, UH went to the Salad Bowl to play Dayton. The Phoenix-based New Year’s Day game was UH’s first bowl game.

Cougar John Carroll #70 at Baylor Stadium, 1951 // Baylor Roundup

In 1960, Houston went independent after nine years in the MVC. UH spent 16 years between conferences, an era that saw an incredible transformation in Cougar Football:

  • Bill Yeoman’s arrival,
  • the school’s first-ever ranking,
  • construction of the Astrodome,
  • first time on national television,
  • Warren McVea breaking the color barrier in Texas,
  • the advent of the Veer,
  • tying #4 Texas in Austin,
  • the 100-6 game over Tulsa,
  • playing Rice for the first time, and
  • the 11-1 season in 1973 that resulted in UH’s first-ever top-10 final ranking.

After 30 years of football, the Cougars prepared to enter the Southwest Conference. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football put Yeoman on the cover that summer.

Houston traveled to Waco for their first SWC game on September 11, 1976. Sluggish early, UH trailed 5-0 at the half. But the Mad Dog Defense pitched a shutout in the second half while creating four turnovers.

The Cougars ran through the SWC, won the conference title, and beat #4 Maryland in the Cotton Bowl. The 10-2 Coogs finished #4 in the AP.

Houston wins in their SWC debut // Houstonian Yearbook

After the implosion of the league 20 years later, UH found itself in Conference USA. While Rice, TCU, and SMU went to the WAC, UH went their own way. The first game in C-USA was against Sam Houston on campus at Robertson Stadium. It was Houston’s second game on the UH campus since 1964.

The Cougars trailed the Bearkats heading into the fourth quarter but rallied for a 43-25 win. The team blew a big fourth-quarter lead the following week at LSU but rallied to win the new conference and go to the Liberty Bowl to face Syracuse.

Running out of the Cougar head at Robertson before the SHSU game, 1996 // Houstonian Yearbook

After the 2011 regular season, UH accepted an invitation to the Big East. But the idea imploded, and several football-playing schools created the American Athletic. UH’s first game as an AAC member was at Reliant Stadium in 2013 against Southern. Houston played the entire season off-campus during the construction of TDECU Stadium.

Ryan Jackson for TD vs. Southern, 2013 // Photo courtesy of UH Athletics

All six of UH’s season openers in a new conference have been in Texas, each at a “new” stadium (Public School was renamed Jeppesen in 1958, then renovated. UH purchased it in 1970 and renovated again before renaming it Robertson Stadium in 1980).

1949: Public School Stadium
1951: Rice Stadium
1976: Baylor Stadium
1996: Robertson Stadium
2013: Reliant Stadium
2023: TDECU Stadium