Houston was one win away from playing in a BCS bowl for the first time in its history. They finished the year with a perfect 12-0 record and the Southern USA Conference Championship game against Southern Miss was the only game that stood between the Cougars and that BCS Bowl. But it was a train wreck right from the beginning, as the Golden Eagles cruised to a 49-28 win. Despite a victory over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl to finish the season at 12-1, the loss to Southern Miss put a huge damper to what could have been a sensational campaign. You can get expert picks and follow the odds on the Cougars all season long with College Football Free Picks.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M and the Cougars have hired Tony Levine to replace him. Levine enters a difficult situation. He does get back 12 starters from last year’s squad, but he also loses one of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory, Case Keenum.
Keenum set almost every career passing mark in the NCAA record books over his four years with Houston. Trying to replace his production is an impossible task, but the Cougars are hoping that David Piland, who started for Houston in 2010 when Keenum was injured, and step in and enjoy immediate success.
If the Cougars are going to continue to feature one of the top offenses in the conference, their running game will need to be stronger than it was a year ago. While they get back leading rusher Charles Sims, they lose their top two backups in Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall. While Sims is definitely a great player, and his 1st Team All-C-USA honors is a testament of that, a lot of the running lanes that were made available last year were primarily due to the opposing teams paying so much attention to Keenum and the passing attack.
What makes things harder for Piland to step in and lead the Cougars is the completely overhauled receiving corps. The only player who finished in the top six in receiving yards is Sims and they lose the school’s all-time leading receiver in Patrick Edwards, as well as valuable contributors in Justin Johnson, Tyron Carrier and E.J. Smith. Both Dewayne Peace and five star freshman recruit Deontay Greenberry are expected to have big contributions right of the bat.
The good news for Houston on this side of the ball is that almost everyone on the offensive line is back. They lose four year starter and 1st Team All-C-USA left tackle in Chris Thompson, but all in all this should be a more experienced unit than they were last year.
The Cougars had one of the most improved defenses in college football last year. In 2010 they allowed over 430 yards per game for 32.2 points per game. Last season, they managed to allow just 22.4 points and 280 yards per game. They could be solid again on this side of the ball with seven starters returning, however, they do switch from a 3-4 look to the 4-3.
They definitely took a huge step in the right direction last year, but they still had their struggles stopping the run. Opposing offenses averaged just over 172 yards a game on the ground. While they get back starting defensive tackle Dominic Miller and defensive end Kelvin King, they must find a replacement for their best defensive lineman in David Hunter. They are excited about moving former junior college transfer Lloyd Allen at the other defensive end spot, but this unit just might suffer a setback.
Even though Houston gets back starters Derrick Matthews and Phillip Steward at linebacker, this unit will have a tough time trying to match last year’s numbers. They arguably lose their two most productive players on this side of the ball in Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown. The transition to a three-unit may help, but this unit is far less talented than they were a year ago.
The one area that should continue to be a strength for the Cougars is the secondary. Last year Houston held opposing quarterbacks to just 209 yards and a completion percentage of just 55%. While they lose starting free safety Nick Saenz, they have seven of their top eight back and will feature one of the best cornerback combos in the conference in D.J. Hayden and Zach McMillian.
Conference USA Prediction – 3rd West Division
The Cougars will be a winning team, but they’ve lost to much to defend their West Division title in conference play. The departure of Keenum essentially puts this team down a few notches from last year. Keenum not only made things easier on the offensive end, but he made life easy on the defensive end as well. Add in the loss of Sumlin and this team is closer to the 5-7 record they were in 2010 than the 12-1 record they had last year.
Jack Jones is a professional sports handicapper who writes and gives his expert picks for Betfirms.com. Visit there now and read more about the Cougars’ upcoming season.