Houston was good before Tom Herman arrived, even recently. The Cougars won 10 games in 2006 under Art Briles with Kevin Kolb at quarterback, and went to five bowls in six years after Kevin Sumlin succeeded Briles, capping that run with a 13-1 season that included wins over UCLA and Penn State.
Those runs were built on the development of low-rated recruits. The best Briles class at Houston finished No. 59 nationally; Sumlin's best class was No. 63, though he left the nucleus of what became Tony Levine's No. 57 class in 2012.
Houston has the No. 40 class in 2016, and its first five-star recruit ever, which basically never happens at the non-power level. For some context, the rest of UH's conference ranked between No. 57 (Temple) and No. 98 (UConn) on the 247Sports Composite.
On the below map of Houston's 2016 class, white markers are five-stars, black are four-stars, red are three-stars and yellow are two-stars. Note the cluster around Houston:
The five-star is defensive tackle Ed Oliver, whom Herman and company were able to keep in the Houston city limits, giving them a distinction only 12 other schools can claim. The class is only 19 players deep, making Houston one of just 10 teams in the national top 50 with fewer than 20 incoming players.
And the momentum is clear: Oliver is one of four 2016 signees among the best 10 Cougars recruits since 2000, and seven of the top 10 have committed since 2015, when Herman arrived to great fanfare as Levine's replacement.
Sure, Houston lost four-star wideout Tyrie Cleveland, who would've been the school's second-best recruit ever, to Florida on National Signing Day. It still has four-star wideout Courtney Lark to supplement a receiving corps that loses Demarcus Ayers and his 1,200-plus receiving yards, and super-athletic former TCU commit D'Eriq King to back up Greg Ward Jr. at quarterback.
Houston has swaggered in with grills and Z-Ro, after a 13-1, topped-Florida State-in-a-bowl-game season. The Cougars' presence in the national conversation is probably contingent on Herman or a Herman disciple maintaining this momentum, which would require either Herman passing on the available jobs in next season's coaching carousel or all of his assistants not getting poached in the meantime. Luckily for Houston, Herman just signed a long-term deal.