#44 Houston Football 2014 Preview

Houston Cougars

Overall Rank: #44
#3 American

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Year two went very well for Coach Tony Levine and his Houston Cougars. In 2012 Houston won just five games playing a pretty soft schedule. Last year the Cougars won their first five games and were sitting at 7-1 at the end of October. But Houston lost their next three and fell out of the American Athletic Conference title race. But the year did end with a trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, where the team lost to Vanderbilt, and that is something the program can build off of heading into 2014.

2013 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2013 Bowl: BBVA Compass Bowl vs. Vanderbilt (L 24-41)
Coach: Tony Levine (14-12 at Houston, 14-12 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Travis Bush
Defensive Coordinator: David Gibbs

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ryan Jackson, RB, 661 yards
Passing: John O’Korn, QB, 3,117 yards
Receiving: Deontay Greenberry, WR, 1,202 yards
Tackles: Efrem Oliphant, LB, 134
Sacks: Derrick Mathews, LB, 7.0
Interceptions: Adrian McDonald, S, 6

Other Key Returnees: RB Kenneth Farrow, WR Greg Ward, WR Daniel Spencer, WR/KR Demarcus Ayers, OL Rowdy Harper, OL Bryce Redman, S Trevon Stewart, LB Steven Taylor

Key Losses: WR Xavier Maxwell, OL DeAnthony Sims, CB Zach McMillian, CB Thomas Bates, P Richie Leone

The potent offense will once again run through quarterback John O’Korn and wide receiver Deontay Greenberry. O’Korn was just a freshman last year, but he threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns. Even more impressive than that is the fact he completed 58.1 percent of his passes and threw just ten interceptions. With that experience under his belt, O’Korn will be even more productive as a sophomore. Of course, having Greenberry back is huge. The 6-3 junior is poised for another big season after catching 82 passes for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior Daniel Spencer was O’Korn’s second favorite target, catching 52 passes for 768 yards and six scores. Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow are both talented pass catchers out of the backfield. They combined to catch 51 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson is the team’s top rusher, totaling 661 yards and six scores on the ground, but Farrow was not far behind. Those two will once again give the Cougars enough of a ground threat to keep the passing game moving effectively.

A year ago this appeared to be a pretty inexperienced defense. They did rank ninth in the conference in total defense, allowing nearly 416 yards per game and gave up some big plays. But they also picked off 25 passes and recovered 18 fumbles, so the good came with the bad. With the return of seven starters, this should be an improved unit as long as they can keep forcing turnovers. Defensive end Trevor Harris should keep the pressure on the opposing quarterback and Joey Mbu is a superb defensive tackle. Derrick Mathews has been a tackling machine during his first three seasons starting at linebacker. Last year he recorded 116 tackles and 7.0 sacks and will again be the main force in the middle of the Houston defense. He will be flanked by Steven Taylor and Efrem Oliphant. Oliphant had a very strong junior season and even out-tackled Mathews. The biggest concern is in the secondary. Junior safeties Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart are back, but they will have to help cover for a couple new cornerbacks. For a team that ranked 108th in the country in pass defense, that is a huge concern.

The Bottom Line:
From top to bottom, Coach Levine is building depth and experience. Despite the fact that there are some holes to fill, Houston has options. And that has not always been the case. The AAC is getting easier with Louisville gone and teams like East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa coming in. Houston is familiar with their new foes and just having Tulane and Tulsa on the schedule, the weaker of the three newcomers, will make things easier for the Cougars. The conference slate begins with UCF and ends with Cincinnati, but in-between are six games in which they will likely be favored. If they can win the games they should, Houston will be right in the mix for a conference title.

Projected Bowl: St. Petersburg Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 139.0 (92nd in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 280.5 (26, 5)
Total Offense: 419.5 (55, 5)
Scoring Offense: 33.2 (38, 3)
Rushing Defense: 149.0 (43, 9)
Pass Defense: 266.8 (108, 7)
Total Defense: 415.8 (79, 9)
Scoring Defense: 21.8 (20, 4)
Turnover Margin: 1.9 (1, 1)
Sacks: 2.38 (37, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 2.23 (75, 4)


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