2012 Record: 5-7 (4-4 in C-USA; 4th in West Division)
Head Coach: Tony Levine (second year head coach; 6-7 all-time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Ticket City Bowl: defeated PSU 30-14
Stadium: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas (capacity: 71,500; new on-campus stadium under construction)
Notable alumni: Andre Ware, Case Keenum, Art Briles, Tom Landry, Robert Newhouse, Wade Philips
Big Games: 9/7 at Temple (inaugural AAC football game), 10/19 vs. BYU, 11/29 vs. SMU
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 84th out of 124 teams
Pro: Averaged nearly 16 possessions per game
Con: Lost 15 fumbles and had 20 passes intercepted in 12 games
Returning Starters – 9 offense, 5 defense
Key players on offense include: QB David Piland; OLs Ty Cloud, Rowdy Harper, Ralph Oragwu and Bryce Redman; and WRs Deontay Greenberry, Dewayne Peace and Daniel Spencer
Defense: DL Joey Mbu; LB Derrick Mathews; CB Zach McMillian; and S Trevon Stewart
Key losses: OL Jacolby Ashworth, LB Phillip Steward and DB D.J. Hayden
Inside view with Brandon Williams, a Houston-based independent sportswriter:
CFBZ: Houston had an unremarkable season in Tony Levine’s debut (5-7), but the Cougars enter a new conference (The American) with new coordinators and presumably a new outlook. How different is this team?
Brandon Williams: To be honest, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Coogs bring back four offensive linemen, while QB David Piland will be better after enduring a physically and mentally challenging 2012 after replacing school icon Case Keenum.
On the other hand, Houston has new coordinators on both sides of the ball (Doug Meacham/offense, Dave Gibbs/defense); Gibbs has just four returning starters to deal with from a unit which allowed 36 points and 483 yards per game.
Make no mistake, UH will continue to spread the field, yet this is a team in the midst of a rebuilding project. Other than the season opener against FCS opponent Southern, there doesn’t appear to be a cakewalk on the schedule, especially in the first year of a new conference that includes nationally-ranked Louisville along with rugged programs Rutgers, Central Florida, SMU and Cincinnati.
CFBZ: Houston has a history of exceptional quarterback play. David Piland’s 2012 performance didn’t earn a place among his notable predecessors. Do you anticipate a better 2013, or might we see someone else under center?
Brandon Williams: Piland comes off a spring in which he showed considerable improvement, particularly with his decision making. He capped it off with a four-touchdown performance in the spring game, where Piland looked in tune with his receiving corps. He comes in as the undisputed starter, yet if he falters early, redshirt sophomore Bram Kohlhausen will likely get the first look; UH is high on freshman John O’Korn, a dual-threat who could push his way up the depth chart once he arrives in August.
CFBZ: Charles Sims sudden departure is a huge roster loss but must also affect team morale. How will the Cougars adjust?
Brandon Williams: Sims was perhaps the most important player on the roster; instead of having one the nation’s most versatile backs, the Cougars will now look to sophomores Kenneth Farrow (86-446-2) and Ryan Jackson (59-252-3) to fill the void. The departure of Sims at such a late date was a punch in the gut for the team, but it is a program that will shake it off and move forward.
CFBZ: The Houston defense is characterized by aggressive, attacking play, but the unit gave up a lot of yards last year. Its starters are quick, if small. How are they likely to fare against some new conference opponents with large offensive lines and established running games?
Brandon Williams: How well the defense adjusts to Gibbs’ 3-4 scheme will determine if the Cougars will be bowl contenders or rounding out the bottom of the new American Athletic Conference. The plus will be that all four starters return in the secondary, including promising sophomore S Trevon Stewart. The addition of LSU transfer Trevon Randle will be a boost to the defense, but with only one projected starter weighing over 265 pounds, the defense must be destructive to opposing offenses; failing that, another 5-7 season could be the offing.
In the past, the Cougars won by simply outscoring their opponents in shootouts. They will still seek to stretch the field and gain yards – and points – in chunks, but they might not have the offensive firepower to outduel other teams as they have in the past.
Charles Sims is a remarkably versatile back, on whom the Cougars were relying heavily. His absence means that opposing defenses do not have to key on him, making their match-ups more favorable.
On the other hand, the Coogs’ defense needs to take pressure off the offense. Their scheme is solid but execution must follow. With so many departed defensive starters though, Gibbs will need shore-up holes quickly and thoroughly.
Levine is very popular among players and fans as well as alumni and administration. He’ll need to capitalize on that optimism and a favorable early schedule by posting several wins to start the season and hoping to mature and develop his club in the process. If the Coogs don’t have five or more wins by November 1st, a bowl berth won’t be easy to come by.
Predicted record: 5-7
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: