The Houston Cougars, coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons, are led by one of the hottest head coaching prospects in the country in former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. For an already solid team to bring in a coach of that caliber, the 2014 Broyles Award winner, means expectations are as high as they've ever been. They have already been winning big time on the recruiting trail, but what can Herman accomplish in his rookie campaign on the field?
Herman's predecessors include Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, who both had very successful stints in Houston on their way to earning the head coaching jobs at Baylor and Texas A&M, respectively. Tony Levine, who was fired about a week before the hiring of Herman, failed to meet what must have been some lofty standards considering his Cougars would beat Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl under an interim head coach to end the season.
In their third year as members of the AAC, UConn and Houston will finally meet on the football field. The basketball series has produced some interesting results, so here's hoping that the Huskies can be the ones pulling off a big upset against a conference favorite. Houston was picked to finish second in the West in the AAC preseason media poll, just four points behind first-place Memphis and one point ahead of Navy.
Offensively, the Cougars return Greg Ward Jr. under center- a dual-threat who threw for over 2000 yards while rushing for over 700 in 9 games last year. Herman likes the junior enough to keep the offense in Ward's hands. He'll have two productive senior running backs returning, but the Cougars lose four of their top five receivers from last year's team. There are some talented options in line to replace the receiving production, and luckily Herman's offenses are not typically very reliant on receivers anyway. The offensive line is replacing three starters, which will be a big question mark for Houston heading into the season. They'll need to have their act together up front by the time they face UConn and the Huskies' vaunted front seven.
The Cougars defense is led by longtime Randy Edsall staffer Todd Orlando, who served as a linebackers coach at UConn before taking over defensive coordinator duties in 2005. He made stops at FIU and Utah State before getting the call to join Herman's staff. He favors an aggressive 3-4 scheme, but will likely be shifting from a focus on creating turnovers to overall defensive efficiency.
Houston's defense wasn't anything special last year, and that isn't likely to change this year. They lost a lot of experience in the front seven, particularly on the D-line, which won't make things easy for the experienced secondary. You should be able to run against this team.
So the Huskies may have a chance to get some offense going behind their four-headed rushing attack against Houston's vulnerable front seven. And luckily, run defense will be one of the strongest suits of this year's team. There is a solid chance of at least slowing down Houston's high-powered offense. This would be a very tough win for UConn, but the match-up is definitely favorable for an upset if the Huskies play a clean game (read: no brutal turnovers or self-defeating penalties).
Still this will likely be a Houston team with much more at stake than the Huskies in what will be the penultimate game of the season. UConn will have an advantage playing a late-November home game in New England, but Houston will definitely be favored and is very likely to take the win this time.