#70 Houston Football Preview

Houston Cougars

Overall Rank: #70
#5 Conference USA
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2010 Record: (5-7, 4-4)
2010 Bowl: none
Coach: Kevin Sumlin (23-16 at Houston, 23-16 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kliff Kingsbury and Jason Phillips
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Stewart

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Bryce Beall, RB, 870 yards
Passing: David Piland, QB, 2,641 yards
Receiving: Patrick Edwards, WR, 1,100 yards
Tackles: Marcus McGraw, LB, 110
Sacks: Sammy Brown, LB, 7.5
Interceptions: Kent Brooks, S, 2; Phillip Steward, LB, 2

Other Key Returnees: OT Jacolby Ashworth, DT Tyrone Campbell, WR Tyron Carrier, DE David Hunter, WR Justin Johnson, QB Case Keenum, DE Kelvin King, S Nick Saenz, C Chris Thompson

Key Losses: S Jacky Candy, WR James Cleveland, S Roisean Haynes, CB Devin Mays, LB Matt Nicholson, CB Jamal Robinson, C Jordan Shoemaker, G Isaiah Thompson, OT Roy Watts

Case Keenum is back for a sixth year after going down for the year with an injury in Houston’s third game of the 2010 season. Keenum’s return gives the Cougars renewed hope after a very disappointing campaign. The offense was still very potent without Keenum, but there is a huge difference. He is a Heisman contender for a reason.

Keenum will have plenty of weapons to work with. The depth at running back is simply not fair. Bryce Beall rushed for 850 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and Michael Hayes added 600 yards and eight scores. Charles Sims was ineligible last season for academic reasons, but he led the team in rushing with 698 yards as a freshman in 2009 and added 70 receptions for 759 yards. He reached the end zone a total of ten times. Beall and Sims will likely carry a majority of the load on the ground, but Hayes is more than capable of being a game changer. The receiver corps is in pretty good hands too with the return of Patrick Edwards. James Cleveland, Keenum’s favorite target in 2009, and Kierre Johnson are gone, but this is Houston and there are plenty of options for Coach Kevin Sumlin to call upon. Tyron Carrier should bounce back from a relatively disappointing junior season with Keenum back under center and Justin Johnson and E.J. Smith are experienced seniors who have paid their dues.

The transition to the 3-4 defense did not go too smoothly. However, a year in the system should reap some benefits. The linebackers are in great shape with the return of the three leading tacklers last year; Marcus McGraw, Phillip Steward and Sammy Brown. Emerging sophomore Efrem Oliphant is ready to step into a starting role as well and George Bamfo is another player who can get to the quarterback from the rush linebacker position. Yet, that group did not do a good job of stopping the run the last year as the team ranked 114th in the nation in that category. That will put a lot of pressure on the front three to get something done. David Hunter is a quality end and getting Zeke Riser back from injury will help with the depth of the unit. However, the most important player on the team could turn out to be the nose tackle. Tyrone Campbell is back after starting last season, junior college transfer Dominic Smith is bigger and could step into that spot. Either way, the man in the middle has to help stop the run. The secondary returns just one starter in free safety Nick Saenz. The strong safety spot will likely be filled by Texas A&M transfer Colton Valencia, but the big concern is at cornerback. Junior college transfers Chevy Bennett and D.J. Hayden better be ready right away.

The Bottom Line:
The successful return of Keenum may hinge on the play of the offensive line. Keenum does not need a lot of time to make plays, but the more the merrier and the line does need to create some holes for the talented group of backs. Chris Thompson is a versatile lineman who will be under center this year and left tackle Jacolby Ashworth is back, but the rest of the line will likely be filled in by underclassmen. There are some questions, but Houston should do a much better job in the turnover department with Keenum back under center and that will make a huge difference by itself. Yet, the line needs to hold and the defense needs to create more turnovers of their own if the Cougars want to compete for a CUSA title.

Projected Bowl: Ticket City Bowl

2010 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 153.25 (61st in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 327.25 (5, 1)
Total Offense: 480.50 (11, 2)
Scoring Offense: 37.67 (13, 2)
Rushing Defense: 208.75 (114, 11)
Pass Defense: 224.08 (68, 4)
Total Defense: 432.83 (103, 8)
Scoring Defense: 32.17 (96, 8)
Turnover Margin: -.50 (88, 6)
Sacks: 1.75 (79, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 1.00 (15, 1)

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