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2016 Fierce 40 Previews: #11 Houston

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 12, 2016

#11 Houston Cougars

2015 Recap:
What a year....the Cougars went 13-1 with the lone loss coming against Connecticut, a game they lost 20-17 when star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was out due to injury. Houston defeated Florida State 38-24 to win the Peach Bowl as the Cougars finished the year ranked #8 overall, only the third time in school history they finished the year ranked in the Top Ten.


Coaching:
Tom Herman was a rookie coach last year, not only at Houston but as a head coach period. One has to wonder if Houston could have crashed the BCS party and made the playoffs had they not lost against Connecticut but they sandwiched that loss with big wins against Memphis and Navy so it was hard to fault the play of the Cougars. Major Applewhite is the offensive coordinator and Todd Orlando and Craig Naivar both lead the defense.


Offense

 The offense finished the season ranked #20 overall and #10 in scoring offense at 40.4 PPG. We witnessed first hand just how valuable Greg Ward Jr. is to this offense last season. After defeating Memphis, the Cougars went to Connecticut without their star quarterback and dropped a 20-17 game, one that may have cost them a shot at the BCS Playoffs. Ward was efficient with the football posting a near 3-1 TD/INT ratio (17-6) while running for 1,108 yards and an incredible 21 touchdowns on the ground. The best part about Ward for this season is he will have more help and balance running the football with the arrival of Texas transfer Duke Catalon and freshman Mulbah Car. Both backs are expected to see huge chunks of action and they are running behind a very capable offensive line. Na'Ty Rodgers and Will Noble are both terrific young lineman who look like they can play at he next level. Steven Dunbar and Chance Allen both return at receiver and between them they posted 83-1134-9 and they add Ra'Shaad Samples to the slot. Just because we see Houston running the ball more than they throw doesn't mean they are short on wide receiver depth.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Greg Ward Jr. RB 4th Round 2017.

                                       NaTy Rodgers OT 6th Round 2018.


Defense

The defense was effective last season but the key to the Cougars success was protecting the football. A +21 to finish 2nd nationally will do that for you and the defense created a ton of turnovers. Houston has the athletes but they lost a number of key contributors so chemistry seems to be the biggest question mark. Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser will lead the the Cougras by example at outside linebacker with Taylor being the top returning tackler and sack artist on the squad. Cameron Malveaux and B.J. Singleton are back along the 3-4 front that Houston primarily employs and they bring back 53 tackles with 10.5 coming for loss. The biggest mystery comes in the secondary where Brandon Wilson is back without William Jackson. Jackson was a first round selection of Cincinnati for the NFL and was one of the best corners in the country over the last two seasons.Wilson is no slacker himself but with him being the focal point of the secondary you have to wonder if Houston will continue to use him as the primary return man on special teams where he was dominant.

Best Draft Prospects: Steven Taylor LB 5th Round 2017.

                                      Tyus Bowser 7th Round 2017.


Special Teams:

Ty Cummings shared kicking duties a season ago and he should be the primary kicker for 2016. The punter job is up in the air with backup quarterback Kyle Postma looking like he is the leading candidate for the job. Houston brought a pair of kickoffs back for touchdowns last season and one punt while not allowing a special teams score. Brandon Wilson is back as the primary kick returner and is always a threat to take one the distance. This again will hinge of if Houston wants to use Wilson as much with William Jackson now gone for life in the NFL.


Schedule:

So much for Houston trying to sneak into a BCS playoff role as they lead off against the #2 Oklahoma Sooners in another very intriguing non-conference match on opening weekend. The only detraction for the rest of the schedule is it looks like the three toughest division rivals (Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy) are all road games for Houston. While these games are all winnable they are not exactly cakewalks.



Draft and Overall Outlook:

Greg Ward Jr. looks like the most draftable prospect as he can easily slip into a running back position at the next level. It will be interesting to see if coach Herman can keep up the recruiting and nab a few prospects once Ward rides off towards the NFL. If Houston can score an upset win against Oklahoma, Ward could vault himself into the lead for the Heisman Trophy race and become just the second winner in school history (Andre Ware 1989).

DJ Boyer