How does one even begin to describe the Houston Cougars? A team that went 0-11 in 2001, they surged to the top of Conference USA under one of the best quarterbacks in college football history, Case Keenum, almost going to their first BCS bowl game in school history before Southern Mississippi ended that hope in the Conference USA title game. Keenum is now with the NFL’s Houston Texans, while head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury both moved to Texas A&M.
That being said, the Cougars are going to have a lot of work to keep their success up. Not known as a team with stability (just look into their records from the last four decades), Houston is looking to build off of last season. Internally, they promoted Tony Levins to the head coaching position, while he hired Mike Nesbitt to come in and run the offense. How will Houston fare this season? Let’s take a look.
Houston was unfortunate to lose both their starting quarterback, Keenum, and backup quarterback Cotton Turner to eligibility. That means that redshirt sophomore (played as freshmen, redshirted last year) David Piland will be at the helm of this team. He did a decent job in 2010 with both Keenum and Turner were lost for the season with injuries. Thankfully for Piland, he will have four of the five offensive linemen returning, so he should be able to stay upright for much of the season.
Piland will get some help in the backfield, as leading rusher Charles Sims is back for the Cougars. Sims led the team in rushing last year, accruing 821 yards and 9 touchdowns on just 110 touches. Did I mention he’s a pretty good receiver too? Sims also caught the ball 51 times for another 575 yards and 4 more scores.
For receivers, Houston could have an instant All-American. Freshmen Deontay Greenberry is a 6’2, 185 lb endzone machine, catching 32 touchdowns for the Washington Union Panthers last season. If he bulks up a bit, and learns the playbook quickly, he could develop into Piland’s favorite target very quickly. Houston has a few other great receivers who are looking to make an impact this year. Ronnie Williams, Daniel Spencer, Dewayne Peace, and Isaiah Smith, along with Greenberry, could form a pretty good unit in the spread.
Defense was the culprit last season as to why the Cougars did not make it into the BCS season. They started the season absolutely horrible, allowing their first four opponents to score 33 points and rack up 457 yards of offense. Sure, the Cougars had one of the best offenses in college football history and could easily overcome any problems. The Cougars put it together during the season, but breakdowns against Southern Miss cost them a BCS game.
This season, the Houston Cougars lose linebackers Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw. Houston will shift into a four down linemen set under new coordinator Jamie Bryant. The other two of Houston’s linebackers last season, Derrick Matthews and Phillip Steward will look to solidify a defense that cost them dearly at times last year. With Houston taking a shift in defensive approach, these two will be busy all year long, as the Cougars will probably be under sized up front.
Last year, the Cougars ranked fifth in passes defended and third in passes intercepted. The Cougars only lost safety Nick Saenz this year. That means their secondary will be aggressive once again, but could result in a few big plays given up.
The Cougars have really only one game that they will probably lose this year, against the UCLA Bruins. The Cougars have winnable games against Tulane, Rice, and UTEP. There are also a handful of games that they could go either way. A worst case scenario is that the Cougars go 5-7, while at best I think Huston will finish 8-4.