#19 Houston Football 2016 Preview

Houston Cougars
Overall Rank: #19
#1 American
Houston took the college football world by storm in 2015 under the direction of head coach Tom Herman. The Cougars went 13-1 and capped off the 2015 season with an outstanding win over Florida State in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl. With plenty of experience returning on both sides of the ball, there is a ton of optimism for Houston football. It will be very interesting to see how the 2016 season unfolds as the Cougars will come into the season with a lot more national attention on them.
2015 Record: 13-1, 7-1
2015 Bowl: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl vs. Florida State (W 38-24)
Coach: Tom Herman (13-1 at Houston, 13-1 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Major Applewhite
Defensive Coordinator: Craig Naivar, Todd Orlando
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Greg Ward, QB, 1,108 yards
Passing: Greg Ward, QB, 2,828 yards
Receiving: Chance Allen, WR, 752 yards
Tackles: Steven Taylor, LB, 92
Sacks: Tyus Bowser, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: Steven Taylor, LB, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Steven Dunbar, OL Will Noble, LB Brandon Wilson, LB Matthew Adams, DE Cameron Malveaux, DT BJ Singleton
Key Losses: RB Kenneth Farrow, RB Ryan Jackson, WR Demarcus Ayers, OL Alex Cooper, LB Elandon Roberts, S Adrian McDonald, CB William Jackson, S Trevon Stewart
Greg Ward Jr. is back at quarterback in 2016 and that is a great thing for Houston and its fans as Ward is an outstanding leader and a tremendous dual-threat quarterback. Ward threw for 2,828 yards and did an excellent job taking care of the football by throwing just six interceptions. Texas transfer Duke Catalon should complement Ward quite nicely in the running game and makeup for some of the lost production from the departure of Kenneth Farrow. Defensively, the Cougars are going to be difficult to deal with along their front seven. Steven Taylor is the leading returning tackler with 92 tackles and guys like B.J. Singleton and defensive end Cameron Malveaux will be a tough combination to deal with along the defensive front. Overall, the speed of the defense, along with their very physical mindset, is going to cause problems for opponents especially during conference play as most teams in the AAC don’t have the depth of talent in the front seven like Houston does.
Protecting the quarterback is going to be important as the offensive line allowed an average of 2.00 sacks per game in 2015. This number has to improve because the Cougars can ill-afford to have Ward go down with an injury or even be significantly hobbled causing ineffectiveness issues. In order for it to improve, Houston will need big-time performances from new starting tackles Josh Jones and Na’Ty Rodgers. They are going to need to help out Will Noble and Mason Denley, the two returning starters, right off the bat. The ability to find another big time playmaker at wide receiver has to be addressed thanks to the early departure to the NFL of DeMarcus Ayers. Chance Allen had 752 receiving yards and another guy to watch will be Oklahoma State transfer Ra’Shaad Samples, who has plenty of raw talent and will need to step in right away. Defensively, the Cougars will have to replace cornerback William Jackson who was drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals. It will be up to guys like Brandon Wilson to step up and lead a secondary that has talent but simply needs game experience.
The Bottom Line:
Oklahoma kicks things off in week one at NRG Stadium in Houston. Baker Mayfield and Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will definitely test the Houston secondary. A Thursday night trip to Cincinnati at the end of September will be a tricky way to start the American Athletic Conference schedule. If the Cougars can take care of business, then they should be able to go on a run until Louisville comes to town for a big showdown on November 17th. The ability to handle the big stage, along with staying consistent like they were last year, is going to define how successful the Cougars are in 2016. Don’t expect Houston to run the table and go undefeated, but the Cougars will split the Oklahoma and Louisville games which will be enough for a trip to the Cotton Bowl this season.
Projected Bowl: Cotton Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 235.8 (13th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 248.4 (44, 5)
Total Offense: 484.1 (20, 4)
Scoring Offense: 40.4 (10, 1)
Rushing Defense: 108.9 (8, 1)
Pass Defense: 274.7 (115, 11)
Total Defense: 383.6 (53, 5)
Scoring Defense: 20.7 (20, 3)
Turnover Margin: 1.50 (2, 1)
Sacks: 2.57 (29, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (58, 6)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#7 Ed Oliver