Houston has long carried themselves as a Power Five school playing in a mid-major conference, to an even greater level than UConn basketball in the American. Not only are winning seasons expected, they’re the floor. Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman hit it, and got snapped up by the best of the best, getting jobs at Texas’ biggest schools.
When your school president says “Winning is defined at University of Houston as 10-2. We’ll fire coaches at 8-4,” before your first season as coach, you sort of laugh it off. That was the situation Major Applewhite faced in 2016 after succeeding Herman. He went 15-11 in his two years there, and the university made good on their promise, jettisoning him for bigger fish.
Houston considers itself a Power Five school, and they made a hire befitting one this offseason, saving Dana Holgerson from an uneasy marriage in West Virginia and transporting him and his sideline fridge full of Red Bulls to the cushiest seat in the Group of 5.
Known for his offensive innovation, Holgo will have an embarrassment of riches to score points with in his first year. Discussion of the Cougars’ offense begins and ends with quarterback D’Eriq King. If he wasn’t injured during the latter part of 2019, he would have pushed 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing at a ruthlessly-efficient pace. King gained 7.7 yards per carry on the ground and completed 64% of his passes for 36 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
Lead rusher Patrick Carr returns as well, along with their top three pass-catchers, all upperclassmen: the speedy Marquez Stevenson and seniors Keith Corbin and Courtney Lark. There certainly won’t be a dearth of points to be found for the Cougars this year, especially when they visit Rentschler Field and face UConn’s still-inexperienced defense.
The offense will have to put up plenty of fireworks in order to cover up the heavy renovations that the defense will be undergoing. Ed Oliver was one of the most impactful defensive players I’ve ever seen, stopping just short of Ndomukang Suh in his ability to take over a game. Even though he sat out much of last year, Houston will be hard-pressed to cover his absence.
Oliver isn’t the only impact player that won’t be present, though. Houston lost nearly 30 percent of their team tackles from the linebacker position alone, including the leading tackler in the American, Austin Robinson.
The front seven will undergo plenty of turnover, which makes the secondary’s job even harder. Junior safeties Gleson Sprewell and Deontay Anderson will help in that area, roaming near the box and assisting in the run game when the opportunity presents itself.
If nothing else, Houston will be a hell of a fun team to watch this year. They’ll score a ton of points, let up a bunch, and might come just short of the AAC championship game to Memphis.