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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Houston Cougars

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 10-4, 6-2
Bowl Game: 10-4, 6-2
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 1st Conference USA West Division
Offensive rank: 1
Defensive rank: 111

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Charles Sims, 698 yards, 9 TD; Bryce Beall, 670 yards, 7 TD
Passing: Case Keenum, 5,671 yards, 44 TD, 15 INT
Receiving: James Cleveland, 1,214 yards, 14 TD; Tyron Carrier, 1,029 yards, 7 TD; Patrick Edwards, 1,021 yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Marcus McGraw, 156 total tackles; C.J. Cavness, 143 total tackles; Nick Saenz, 114 total tackles
Sacks: Tyrell Graham, 7 sacks (6 solo, 2 assisted)
Interceptions: Jamal Robinson, 5 interceptions (1 touchdown); Brandon Brinkley, 4 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

houstonuniversityschedule

Key Matchups

September 18 @ UCLA: While they'll have to avoid another slip up against UTEP the week before, this will mark Houston's first challenge against a team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference of the season. We'll learn a lot about the defense, as well as the offense, in this contest although UCLA is nowhere near the force they once were on the national scale. It's also a prime opportunity for the Cougars to impress voters.

October 23 @ Southern Methodist: After years of mediocrity and a few of flat out awfulness, SMU is on the right track with June Jones taking over. While they ranked 45th in scoring offense a season ago, the Mustangs should see an improvement in Jones' third season at the helm. Last season, SMU managed just 15 points against the Cougars and didn't reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. A more confident Kyle Padron at quarterback could give the Cougars more of a fight in this C-USA West matchup. Avoiding another C-USA slip up against UCF a couple of weeks later will also be important in winning the West Division.

November 27 @ Texas Tech: These teams finished one and two in passing offense in 2009. Like Houston, Texas Tech also ranked in the top 10 scoring and total offenses in the country. Unlike Houston, however, they managed a top 50 scoring and total defense. Last year's Big 12 matchup was a fun one (if you're a Cougars fan) with Houston winning 45-35 over fifth-ranked Oklahoma State in what would prove to be Dez Bryant's (five receptions, 85 yards, no touchdowns) second to last collegiate game. As Houston expects to once again compete in the C-USA title game, closing the regular season strong against a team like Texas Tech will carry a lot of momentum into the championship contest.

Preseason Rankings

AP: N/A

Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Charles Sims, RB (ineligible for 2010); Jarve Dean, OT; Tyrell Graham, DE; C.J. Cavness, LB; Brandon Brinkley, CB

Key Returning Players

Case Keenum, QB; Bryce Beall, RB; James Cleveland, WR; Tyron Carrier, WR; Patrick Edwards, WR; Chris Thompson, G; Marcus McGraw, LB; Jamal Robinson, CB; Nick Saenz, S; Matt Hogan, K

Offensive Overview

Heisman candidate Case Keenum once again leads what should be one of the nation's most prolific offenses. He enters the season with 12,950 career passing yards following a season in which he placed third all-time with 5,671 passing yards. Another 4,123 yards and Keenum will be the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yards surpassing Timmy Change of Hawaii from 2000 to 2004. Based on the last couple of seasons and assuming he can stay healthy all year, it seems like a very attainable goal.

Keenum will have several targets in the passing game with all three leading receivers returning and running back Bryce Beall a good option in the passing game as well. Charlie Sims, last year's leading rusher and fourth on the team in receiving yards (759 yards), was declared ineligible for the 2010 season, meaning Beall will not only get the majority of the carries, but should also find himself used more in the passing game. James Cleveland led all receivers with 104 receptions, 1,214 yards and 14 touchdown receptions and returns along with Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards, each of whom accumulated at least 85 receptions and six touchdowns and over 1,000 yards receiving a piece. The passing game has been the bread and butter of this Cougars offense and despite the change in coordinators, will again rank among the top attacks in the nation.

The offensive line, which ranked 24th in the nation in sacks allowed (credit some of that to Keenum's ability to get rid of the ball), loses center Carl Barnett (graduation) and tackle Jarve Dean (dismissed from team). Offensive lineman Ari Tatum was also dismissed from the team, which, while he only appeared in one game last season, further thins the depth along the line. Dean's dismissal may lead to Jacolby Ashworth, the starter at left tackle for the first four games in 2009 before an injury cut short his freshman season, staying put at left tackle although many expected to see him move to guard this season. Jaryd Anderson may also get a look for the starting left tackle spot. Entering his junior season, guard Chris Thompson has already amassed 24 starts and enters 2010 as the leader of this unit. Isaiah Thompson is expected to move to left guard from nose tackle in an effort to bolster the line with Jordan Shoemaker likely getting the nod at center. Keenum is known for getting rid of the ball quickly, but the uncertainty and lack of depth along the line is something to watch out for in 2010.

Defensive Overview

The Cougars will switch to a 3-4 defense for the 2010 season with new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart coming to town. Tyrone Campbell will get the nod at the nose tackle position. Campbell saw action in all but one game as a freshman in 2009 and will assume the responsibilities of clogging up the middle of the line of scrimmage in the hope of improving the Cougars' 115th ranked rushing defense. David Hunter will go through a position change as a result of the new defense as he moves from tackle, where he started every game in 2009, to end. Joining him at the other end spot is former BYU defensive end Matangi Tonga. Tonga is tough against the run and will be counted on to help shore up a defense that allowed an average of 227 yards rushing per game in 2009. Zeke Riser, who started all 14 games as a freshman in 2009, will be used often in the rotation along the line.

Marcus McGraw, last year's leading tackler and fifth leading tackler in the nation, returns to the linebackers corps as the leader of the bunch. McGraw will line up at one of the inside positions along with Matt Nicholson. Losing second leading tackler (15th in the nation) C.J. Cavness leaves a hole on the weakside that will likely be filled by Sammy Brown, a JUCO transfer. Kelvin King moves to linebacker from defensive end and could see time at weakside as well. Phillip Steward played in all 14 games last season and will compete with George Bamfo for time at strongside linebacker. John McIntyre and Jeremy Smith provide depth on the inside. Transfers and position changes have brought speed to this unit, contributing to one of the defense's goals of adding more speed and athleticism.

Brandon Brinkley is gone after recording four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and finishing fifth on the team with 75 tackles. Jamal Robinson does return, however, after leading the team with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 58 tackles. Robinson will be counted on to lock onto the opposition's best wide receiver as the Cougars' top cover corner. Loyce Means, a senior who has seen sporadic starting experience throughout his career, should get the call opposite Robinson. Nick Saenz is a speedy safety who finished third on the team with 114 tackles in 2009. He can step up in run support, but must show more of an impact in the passing game. Roisean Haynes and Jeffery Lewis are competing to take over for the departed Carson Blackmon at strong safety.

Special Teams Overview

Kicking was a big problem for the Cougars last season, but Matt Hogan, a walk-on who earned a scholarship, helped solve that after taking over midseason for Jordan Mannisto. Mannisto was 6 for 10 in field goals before being replaced following a mid-October matchup with Tulane. Hogan came in and hit all 12 of his field goal attempts and connected on 38 of his 43 extra point attempts in the second half of the season. He'll need to improve in extra point attempts, although he attempts so many, but he should prove a reliable option this season. Mannisto could still see the field in 2010, but not as a place kicker. Mannisto is expected to assume punting duties upon the departure of Chase Turner.

Tyron Carrier will return in 2010 as the team's primary return man. He returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, averaging 29 yards per return in 2009. He averaged 10.4 yards per punt return as well. Carrier gives this already explosive Houston team another element for which the opposition must prepare every week.

Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin

Kevin Sumlin enters his third season as a collegiate head coach with high expectations. He has a Heisman candidate for a quarterback, the top passing, total and scoring (tied with Boise State) offense in the country and a host of skill players on offense. He brought in defensive coordinator Brian Stewart to shore up the defense and Jason Phillips was promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2010 season. While the defense will see a makeover, the offense will remain largely intact.

Sumlin has taken Houston to two bowl games in his two seasons as head coach, but has yet to take the Cougars to the Conference USA title. Sumlin is an offensive-minded coach who came over to Houston following the 2007 season during which he served as the wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. His last season with the Sooners saw the offense ranked fifth in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 42 points per game.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Case Keenum, QB; James Cleveland, WR

Season Prediction

Conference USA Champions

After a close 38-32 loss to East Carolina in the C-USA Championship Game, the Cougars eager for another shot at the title in Keenum's final year under center in Houston. Of course, they'll face a stiff challenge from SMU who hopes to build on last season's success. Most of the skill players return to the Cougars offense (except running back Charles Sims) and the defense will shift to a 3-4 scheme with an eye on stopping the run. Quarterback Case Keenum is exceptional at getting the ball out of his hand quickly and he'll have plenty of targets around him, but the offensive line needs to answer a few questions regarding consistency and depth after losing two major contributors from 2009 to either graduation or dismissal.

After a close 38-32 loss to East Carolina in the C-USA Championship Game, the Cougars eager for another shot at the title in Keenum's final year under center in Houston. Of course, they'll face a stiff challenge from SMU who hopes to build on last season's success. Most of the skill players return to the Cougars offense (except running back Charles Sims) and the defense will shift to a 3-4 scheme with an eye on stopping the run. Quarterback Case Keenum is exceptional at getting the ball out of his hand quickly and he'll have plenty of targets around him, but the offensive line needs to answer a few questions regarding consistency and depth after losing two major contributors from 2009 to either graduation or dismissal.

Provided they are not plagued with injuries, this team will undoubtedly find themselves among the top five in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense in 2010. While Keenum may again face the stigma of system quarterback in contending for the Heisman Trophy at the end of the year, there's an excellent chance that he becomes the NCAA's all-time leading passer sometime this season.

The Cougars have won two conference championships since beginning play in C-USA in 1996 (1996 and 2006). They appeared poised to take the conference last season with the nation's most prolific offense, but fell just short. They started strong with wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the first month, but slip ups against UTEP and UCF in October and November proved that their high-octane offense was not enough to run through the conference unscathed. This season, with hope now found not only in the offense, but also in the changes on defense, Houston faces plenty of optimism of a return to the Liberty Bowl. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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