NCAA Football

2011 College Football Preview: Houston Cougars

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2010 Record: (5-7, 4-4 in C-USA)

Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (23-16, 16-8 in C-USA)

Last Bowl Game: 2009 Season Armed Forces Bowl: lost to Air Force 47-20

2010 Pre-Season Preview

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CFBZ Houston Links

College Football Roundtable: Conference USA Edition

College Football Roundtable: March 4th Edition

Schedule

9/3: UCLA (2010 result: lost 31-13)

9/10: at North Texas

9/17: at Louisiana Tech

9/24: Georgia State

10/1: at UTEP (2010 result: won 54-24)

10/8: East Carolina (2009 result: lost 38-32)

10/22: Marshall

10/27: Rice (2010 result: lost 34-31)

11/5: at UAB

11/10: at Tulane (2010 result: won 42-23)

11/19: SMU (2010 result: won 45-20)

11/26: at Tulsa (2010 result: lost 28-25)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 37.7 ppg (2nd in C-USA, 13th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 153.25 yds/game (6th in C-USA, 61st in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 327.3 yds/game (1st in C-USA, 5th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 480.5 yds/game (2nd in C-USA, 11th in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 32.2 ppg (8th in C-USA, 96th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 208.75 yds/game (11th in C-USA, 114th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 224.1 yds/game (4th in C-USA, 68th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 432.8 yds/game (8th in C-USA, 103rd in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -0.5 per game (6th in C-USA, 15th in Nation)

Penalties: 40.9 yds/game (3rd in C-USA, 50th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB David Piland, Soph (201 of 345 for 2641 yds, 24 TD, 14 INT)*

Rushing: RB Bryce Beall, Sr (163 for 870, 5.3 ypc, 12 TD)

Receiving: WR Patrick Edwards, Sr (71 rec for 1100 yds, 13 TD)

Tackles: LB Marcus McGraw, Sr (110)

Sacks: LB Sammy Brown, Sr  (7.5)

Interceptions: DB Kent Brooks, Soph; LB Phillip Steward, Jr (2)

*Case Keenum also returns as he was granted a 6th yr of eligibility

To say the Houston Cougars 2010 season did not go the way they expected would be putting it mildly. The Cougars won their first two games (over Texas State and UTEP) by averaging 61 points per game. The season started exactly the way fans thought it would. But then the unthinkable happened. UCLA had just lost to Kansas State 31-22 and Stanford had stripped them of their dignity with a 35-0 squashing. Houston came into their third game of the season, against UCLA, ranked (the guys here at CFBZ had them at #21 going into the game).

UCLA jumped out to a 21-3 lead and then their Heisman Candidate, Case Keenum, went down with a season ending injury. Houston was unable to recover this day as they lost to the Bruins 31-13 and this was the point that ultimately turned their season as they finished 5-7 in a season that at one point had aspirations of 10 wins or more. Now it's a year later. Case Keenum is back and has been granted a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA. Houston gets a re-match in week one with UCLA and then they have a very manageable schedule. The C-USA Gods have smiled upon Houston this year as they don't play UCF or Southern Miss from the East so they miss two of the best three teams from that half of the conference. Houston is the front-runner to win the Eastern half of C-USA and could be poised to do big things this year. We talked to Dustin Rensink, formerly of the Houston Cougars based blog Scott and Holman and current writer for SB Nation Houston, to get his take on the 2011 Houston Cougars.

Make sure you follow Dustin on Twitter @scottandholman to keep up with Houston football.

In our pre-season preview for 2010 you pegged Houston at 10-2. Case Keenam went down and they finished up a disappointing 5-7. Other than Keenum's injury, what were the other issues that caused Houston's downfall last year?

Not only did Keenum go down, but his back-up, Cotton Turner, went down for the year in the same game, leaving us wavering between two true freshmen at QB. And our top running back from the year before, Charles Sims, missed the year with an academic issue. This was also our first year after losing one of the most brilliant offensive minds in college football in Dana Holgorsen. But after all that, Houston was still #11 in the nation in total offense. So really, the downfall came from the fact that the defense failed to improve even slightly. I think the fan base really bought in to the idea that the defense was going to improve tremendously, and it just didn't happen, and the offense slipped just enough that we couldn't cover up the defense's shortcomings.

Houston finished 11th in the conference in rushing defense last year. What has been done to address this issue during the off-season?

First and foremost, the defensive line coach was fired, and the linebackers coach was reassigned, and we brought in two new guys to fill those positions. Houston also brought in three guys who can play in the front seven out of the JuCo ranks in Dominic Smith, Lloyd Allen and Everett Daniels, all three-star recruits. But in my mind, for that stat to change, the difference is going to have to come from all the guys who UH has been throwing out there on the defensive line the last couple years as freshmen and sophomores. We've got just this huge crop of players who have been forced to play earlier than they should, and it's been a painful process. But if guys like Ameen Behbahani and Tyrone Campbell and Radermon Scypion show significant improvement, this team could be special.

For those that don't follow Houston that closely...besides Case Keenum, who are the players to watch on this team?

Get to know the three-headed running back combination of Bryce Beall, Michael Hayes and Charles Sims. For as much as Houston has built its brand around throwing the ball all over the field, we've actually had a lot of success running the ball in recent years, too. In 2008, as the primary rusher, Beall ran for 1,247 yards as a true freshman. In '09, Beall and true freshman Sims rushed for a combined 1,368 yards, and Sims tallied 759 yards receiving. Last year, with Sims an academic casualty, Beall and the JuCo transfer Hayes rushed for a combined 1,499 yards. Some of the guys waiting to play behind them have looked impressive when given the chance, as well. Houston actually has so much depth at running back that they've been toying with some three-back sets this Spring. At Houston, of all places!

Who are some newcomers that can come in and immediately help this year?

The aforementioned Smith, Allen and Daniels up front on defense will be key pieces. But while Houston's secondary actually wasn't that bad last year, it suffered heavy losses due to graduation, so JuCo transfers D.J. Hayden and Chevy Bennett will also play important roles. Hayden is someone fans are especially excited about, with all of the big-time offers he had (Texas A&M, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, among others) before choosing to be a Cougar. Also, with some losses in the receiving corps, look out for redshirt freshman DeAndre Perry. He's big (6'4", 210) and strong, has good hands and isn't afraid of contact. He's gonna be a good one.

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games for Houston this year?

Everyone would love to pound UCLA into the ground after the embarrassing loss and season-ending injuries we suffered at their hands a year ago. But ultimately, all anybody really cares about is winning Conference USA. We had our fun little flirtation with BCS-busting in 2009, and dreamt about it again in 2010, but now that we've been shot back down to reality, it's time to realize that we haven't won a conference title since 2006, and we've had entirely too much talent in this program since then to not win another title. If the team plays to its abilities, the west division race will likely come down to those last two games to end the year - vs SMU and at Tulsa. So I think those will be the two most important games.

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

As I mentioned in the last question, a successful season is one where we win Conference USA, plain and simple. I cringe to pick a final record, after I whiffed so badly last year, and with all of the question marks this year. Will Case Keenum be healthy enough to play like Case Keenum? Will the defense be...if not good, at least mediocre? There's not a game on the schedule we are incapable of winning, but there aren't many we can pencil in as an easy W, either. Gut reaction, with a (hopefully) healthy Keenum, and a weak non-conference schedule, I'll say 9-3 overall, 6-2 in C-USA, and hopefully that gets us to the conference title game.

Next Preview: UNLV 

Previous 2011 Team Previews:

Mac- Buffalo , Central Michigan, Temple

Sun Belt- North Texas