Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 89 Houston Cougars

Troy Taormina – USA TODAY SPORTS

The Rant Sports 100 in 100 series continues with the Houston Cougars. After a 5-7 finish in 2012, there are plenty of questions which surround Tony Levine‘s squad, most of which center around a defensive unit that struggled to stop anyone last season.

There’s plenty of experience and talent on the offensive side of the ball. There’s little question the Cougars will be able to light up the scoreboard. What the team needs is an overall improvement on the defensive side of the ball to compliment an offensive unit that averaged 32.4 points and 479.6 yards per game last fall.

The Cougars will have an opportunity to get off to a fast start with an early season schedule that’s far from intimidating, but if they don’t, it could be another .500 or sub-.500 season in 2013.

Key Player

The unexpected departure of leading rusher Charles Sims leaves all eyes turned toward junior quarterback David Piland, who threw for 2,944 yards last season and showed flashes of brilliance. Pliand could be next in the line of great Houston quarterbacks, the most recent being NCAA record holder Case Keenum.

The Southlake, Texas native was inefficient overall last season, throwing 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but has an experienced receiving corps on campus which should allow him to improve upon these numbers. Piland’s struggles have come on the road so an early-season three game road stretch could tell how Piland’s 2013 story will read.

Offense

The Cougars enjoyed the Big East’s second-best passing offense in 2012 (11th nationally), but struggled to find overall offensive balance, averaging 151.2 yards per game on the ground. Without Sims similar production in the run game may be a challenge and will need to come from sophomore Kenneth Barrow whose role will expanded.

Houston will go as their passing game goes.

Top receivers Deontay Greenberry, Dewayne Peace and Daniel Spencer return.The trio accounted for 142 receptions, 1.751 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. Former USC Trojans recruit Markeith Ambles should add a nice spark to the receiving game when any of the trio are off their game.

Nothing matters without a productive offensive line, and with four starters back, the Cougars’ unit should be solid led by junior tackle Rowdy Harper and senior guard Ty Cloud.

Defense

The Houston defense was awful in 2012, giving up an average of 36 points and 483 yards per game. There’s nowhere to go but up, and Cougars fans hope the arrival of new Defensive Coordinator David Gibbs — whose reputation for creativity within a simpler scheme precedes him — will be the answer.

Junior middle linebacker Derrick Matthews is the spiritual leader of the unit and one of the team’s returning tacklers from 2012. Several unproved players must rise up to compliment Matthews. Senior Austin Wilson who played little last season and LSU transfer Trevon Randle are the most likely suspects.

Several sophomores will lead the charge in Houston’s base 4-3 defensive set. The play of sophomore Trevon Stewart (126 tackles in 2012) will be very important behind the linebacking corps. Junior college transfers Turon Walker and Kent London will be expected to contribute as well to add depth in the secondary.

Schedule

A road-heavy early season slate will test the Cougars in the early going. Playing three of your first five games on the road isn’t an easy task for any Division I program, regardless of the quality of opponent.

The season kicks off on August 30th against Southern at home before the Cougars hit the road on three consecutive Saturdays to visit the Temple Owls, Rice Owls, and UTSA Roadurnners. Temple is the first AAC game for the Cougars, the second coming on the backside of the road swing on October 12th against the lowly Memphis Tigers.

It’s a half-and-half proposition for the remainder of Houston’s schedule, with three road and three home games on tap. The highlight of these could be a road game against the Louisville Cardinals (and Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater), who many believe have a dark horse chance at a National Championship.

Another trip to a bowl game is far from an foregone conclusion for Houston in 2013, but reachable. Another sub-.500 season won’t sit well with the Cougar faithful who anticipate a brand new facility in 2014 and expect the quality of the team to mirror it.

Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer for Rant Sports. You can follow Kris on TwitterGoogle and Facebook 

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