Saturday, May 27, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Houston Cougars
2016 had to go down as the ultimate in disappointing seasons for the Cougars, as what was considered to be a season that would see them making an outsider push towards the national title ended in a four loss season. A year in which it looked like an absolute in that Houston would be invited to the big table as a member of the Big 12 all went for naught. Tom Herman, their coach who was the hottest prospect for poaching in the nation, was poached, and the school not getting invited to the Big 12 and Power Five was a major reason for that happening, and it seemed at times like has was already half out the door.
Major Applewhite will finally get his chance to be a head football coach, after most of us had known that this day would come for much of the last several years. Now he gets to prove if the faith placed in him was correct, or if he was just another career assistant that was over hyped. The clock starts now.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
It's time for Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen to shine for the Cougars. He has come in with some big fanfare, and there is no reason to believe that he can stand up to it. He passed for 16 TDs as a freshman for the Aggies before transferring out, and with Applewhite working directly with him, he should flourish in the Houston system. Kyle Postma and D'Eriq King also return, but the job is Allen's to lose at this point.
The Cougars rushing attack was not great last fall, averaging just over 140 yards per game rushing, and Duke Catalon, a Texas transfer, never seemed to be entirely healthy. Every scholarship RB that was on the roster last season, however, returns, and if they can get lucky on the health issue, this unit could break loose. With Allen being more of a pure passer than Greg Ward was, the run game should look a bit more traditional this time around.
Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner will both return this fall at receiver, giving Allen one of the more experienced duos in college football at the WR position. They have a combined 38 career starts, and have played in 62 total combined football games during their Houston careers. A solid group of sophomores who all saw extended playing time late last season will also be on hand to lead the way in the passing game.
The line was plenty raw by the end of last season, with seven freshmen or sophomores on the two deep for the bowl game. The good news in 2017 is that the entire two deep roster for the offensive line from that game all return.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
This is going to seem like nitpicking at this point, but that's really all there is to do right now on the offensive side of the football.
Allen has to be the guy they think he can be at QB. If he fails, if he does not play up to expectations, the Cougars only have Postma and King to turn to, and neither guy is a stand up passer who can really be a focal point of the offense, and everything changes dynamically for the worst. I don't think that this will be an issue, but there is that concern.
The offensive line was very young last season, and they have to do a better job in the run blocking area of the game. As a team, the Cougars were held to just 3.41 yards per carry last fall, and that is not going to get it done. The inability to consistently run the football last season was a huge reason why the defense got mauled in games that the Cougars lost (specifically the Memphis game). Houston must work on better clock management, and better ball control in 2017, and the line will be key here.
The Cougars also lose PK Ty Cummings, who hit 16/20 FGs last season. Joel Scarbrough, a sophomore, is in line to take the job, but has attempted just one FG in his career, and missed it.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Cougars were a fired up unit most weeks last season on defense, and it all starts and ends up front with all world DE Ed Oliver. Oliver, a sophomore in 2017, finished last season by recording 22.5 TFLs, five sacks, and 66 total tackles. He is a beast up front, and will be one of the most exciting defensive players in the nation to watch. Nick Thurmon also returns up front after finishing with 22 tackles last season.
Matthew Adams finished 2016 as the leading tackler with 82, and he returns in 2017 at ILB. D'Juan Hines finished with 44 tackles at OLB, and also returns. Both will be seniors this fall.
Garret Davis and Khalil Williams both return at their Safety spots. Davis finished with 65 tackles last season, and broke up five passes, while Williams finished with 69 tackles, and broke up three passes.
Punter Dane Roy is back after a solid freshman effort saw him average 40.63 yards per punt on 4.5 punts per game last fall. He looks like a possible breakout talent in 2017 for the Cougars.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
With success, comes losses, and the Cougars have some losses on the defensive side of the football in 2017 to deal with.
Cameron Malveaux is gone on the line after recording eight TFLs last fall. He was dangerous enough to distract teams from spending all of their resources on Oliver, because teams had to keep an eye on him as well. Zach Vaughn, a junior, gets first shot at replacing him, and it is a huge job.
Tyus Bowser and Seven Adams, two of the more successful LBs in Houston history, are both gone, leaving an enormous hole in two spots in the LB corps. Junior Emele Egbule will look to replace Bowser at the OLB spot, while Nomluis Fruge will take a swing at replacing Adams inside.
Both corners need to be replaced after Howard Wilson left early for the NFL, and ended up with the Browns as his reward. Brandon Wilson departs as well. Javian Smith will have a chance to replace Brandon Wilson, but will be just a sophomore in 2017. Jeremy Winchester, a junior, is next up to replace Howard Wilson.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at UTSA, 9/9 at Arizona, 9/16 Rice, 9/23 Texas Tech, 9/30 at Temple, 10/7 SMU, 10/14 at Tulsa, 10/19 Memphis, 10/28 East Carolina, 11/4 at USF, 11/18 at Tulane, 11/24 Navy
The Cougars may be a bit on the overlooked side for 2017, and only because of the coaching change and a few minor areas of uncertainty. Looking at their schedule, the Cougars could possibly be in for a ten win season. If Allen can seamlessly transition in at QB, if the line can improve on the run block situation, and become more mature overall on the field, then the offense should be just fine. There were some major losses in the back of the defense, but with Oliver returning, the unit still has a massive superstar talent who could one day be a number one overall pick in the NFL draft. If the new starters at CB and LB can gel quickly, and there is another answer found up fron to replace Malveaux, this team could challenge USF for the AAC crown. Getting by Navy and Memphis will be key in the West, but the Cougars could have an edge here.