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Clayton Tune and the Houston Cougars are embracing the underdog mentality

Going into the 2021 college football season, the Houston Cougars knew they wouldn’t be the favorites for their biggest goals. Most preseason predictions for the American Athletic Conference had the Cincinnati Bearcats at the top. Still, someone had to play Cincinnati for the conference title at the end of the year, and anything can happen in those high-stakes games. The only question was, who would it be?

The Bearcats were the heavy betting favorites, with UCF right behind them. Beyond those two, it was a toss-up. Memphis was in the conversation, as was Tulsa. And then there was Houston.

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To most, the Cougars were afterthoughts and underdogs. If you ask Houston quarterback Clayton Tune, that’s just how they like it.

“It’s something that we’ve taken on as being a ruthless, tough team,” Tune said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “We’re down here in Houston, and we don’t get a lot of respect, so that’s something that we take pride in … being disrespected and being the underdog.”

Tune has helped lead the Cougars to an 11-1 record. They’re an undefeated 8-0 in conference play — matched only by the Bearcats, the College Football Playoff Committee’s No. 4 team in the country — and are headed to the 2021 AAC Conference Championship this weekend for what they hope is their greatest underdog performance yet.

But it didn’t always look special for Tune and his team. The Cougars are currently riding an 11-game winning streak, and if you do some quick math with their 11-1 record, that means they started the season off with a loss.

To make matters worse, that loss was against one of their in-state rivals — Texas Tech.

“I think we may have gotten a little too high on our saddle at halftime [in Week 1] because we had the lead,” Tune said. “I think maybe we got a little comfortable; we just didn’t come out and finish well. 

“There were things that I did that I normally don’t do, that I didn’t do in the first half, which I don’t know why I did in the second. I think I was trying to do too much. I was trying to make too many plays by myself, and I didn’t do a great job of adjusting to the defense that they came out and played in the second half.”

In the second half of that first game, Tune went 11-for-18 with three interceptions and a PFF passing grade of 32.0 — significantly lower than the 91.7 grade he has on the season. But, as a two-time captain of his team, he made sure an early-season slip-up didn’t define him and his guys moving forward.

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