Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: Houston Cougars

2009 Record: 10-4 (6-2, C-USA Runner-Up)
2009 Bowl: Armed Forces Bowl (lost to Air Force 47 to 20)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (18-9 at Houston)
Non-Conference Schedule: Texas State (9/4), at UCLA (9/18), Mississippi State (10/9), at Texas Tech (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 42.3 points per game (1st in CUSA, Tied for 1st in Nation with Boise State)
Rushing Yards/Game: 132 (8th in CUSA)
Passing Yards/Game: 430 (1st in CUSA, 1st in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 563 (1st in CUSA, 1st in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 30.1 points per game (7th in CUSA)
Rushing Yards/Game: 226 (last in CUSA, 115th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 224 (2nd in CUSA)
Total Yards/Game: 451 (9th in CUSA)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.21 per game (5th in CUSA)
Penalties: 40 yards per game (2nd in CUSA)

Returning Starters
Offense: 9
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Case Keenum, Sr (489 of 697 for 5632 yds, 44 TD, 15 INT, 402 ypg, 8.1 yds/att)
Rushing: RB Charles Sims, Soph (132 carries for 698 yds, 9 TD, 5.29 ypc, 49 ypg)
Rushing: RB Bryce Beall, Jr (139 carries for 670 yds, 7 TD, 4.82 ypc, 47 ypg
Receiving: WR James Cleveland, Sr (104 rec, 1214 yds, 14 TD, 8.7 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Patrick Edwards, Jr (85 rec, 1026 yds, 6 TD, 6.1 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Tyron Carrier, Jr (90 rec, 1012 yds, 7 TD, 6.4 rec/game)
Receiving: RB Charles Sims, Soph (70 rec, 759 yds, 1 TD, 5 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Marcus McGraw, Jr (156)
Sacks: LB Marcus McGraw, Jr and DL David Hunter, Jr (4)
Interceptions: DB Jamal Robinson, Sr (6)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: #23
Mark Schlabach: Not Ranked
Rivals: #21
Scout: Not Ranked
Sports Illustrated: #21

Despite having the #1 Offense in all of College Football last year the Cougars were defeated in the Conference USA Championship game by East Carolina. Can Houston, under Coach Kevin Sumlin, take the crown this year? Dustin at the Houston based blog Scott & Holman gives us his take on the 2010 Houston Cougars.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?
Strengths: The offensive skill positions. If he stays healthy, QB Case Keenum will end his senior season this year with every significant NCAA passing record there is. The two running backs (junior Bryce Beall and sophomore Charles Sims) have won the last two C-USA Freshman of the Year awards. (Beall's a power runner, always falls forward, Sims is almost impossibly quick.) The wide receiving corps is deep, with the top three receivers returning. Senior James Cleveland led the team last year with with 104 catches, 1,214 receiving yards and 14 TD catches last year, even though it noticeably took him and Keenum until about the fourth game of the year to get in sync (he was in his first year after transferring from a JuCo), and he played the last half of the year with a severely injured abdominal.

Weaknesses: The defense, until proven otherwise. There is some hope, with a new defensive coordinator coming in (Brian Stewart, formerly a DC for the Dallas Cowboys), a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, and stud DT Matangi Tonga transferring in. (Tonga transferred from a JuCo, he previously started as a frosh at BYU.) The defense looked pretty good in the Spring, and actually "won" the Red & White Game against the offense, although a few of the proven stars of the offense were sitting out nursing injuries.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

UTEP, in the second game of the year, because they did beat us last year after all. I don't expect the Miners to break Houston's 15 game winning streak at Robertson Stadium, but they always do seem to have a potent offense, and the game will be an excellent test for the Stewart defense.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

If I had to pick one, Texas Tech. But all three D-1A (I refuse to call it FBS) non-conference opponents (@UCLA, vs. Mississippi State, @Tech) will be difficult. In conference play, Southern Miss is a very good team, and playing in Hattiesburg is never easy.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Junior Linebacker Marcus McGraw. He gets lost in the mix because nobody talks about the defense, but he's a legitimate next-level type of player. He's been starting since day one, and has 259 tackles through his first two seasons.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

It's an obvious pick, but Keenum. Only thing he has to prove is that the last two games of last season (9 total INT thrown in Conference Championship game and Bowl game losses) were a fluke.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Hate to throw everything on a first-year guy, but it's Tonga. Run defense was already a problem last year, and with the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, the Cougars need a big guy up front to cause some havoc. Expectations are that it'll be Tonga.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

The defense as a whole. The offense will score its points. If the defense is at least mediocre, it'll be a welcome improvement, and the whispers of BCS-busters will start. As I mentioned, that starts up front, hopefully with Tonga.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

The depth chart is pretty well hashed-out with returnees from last year, but at gun point, I'd pick freshman WR DeAndre Perry.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I'm tired of picking Tonga, so we'll go with safety Jacky Candy. The JuCo transfer was expected to compete for a starting spot in the secondary last year, but injured his knee and missed the entire year. He's been tearing it up this Spring. You might hear some of his hits from wherever you are.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Gut feeling is: 10-2. I think we'll drop one of the non-conf games, and one game in C-USA that we have no business losing. (SMU or Rice or something.) A successful season is one in which we win Conference USA. For all of his accolades, and all of the talk of Heisman hopeful surrounding Keenum, he still hasn't won a C-USA title. A lot of Cougar fans won't be happy with anything short of an undefeated season and a BCS bid (we're an optimistic bunch), but I just want to win conference.

Next Up: Cincinnati Bearcats

2010 Previews
Big East- Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia
MAC- Temple Owls


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