2011 Houston Preview
Houston WR Patrick Edwards
Houston WR Patrick Edwards
Posted Jun 3, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Houston Cougars

Houston Cougars

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Kevin Sumlin
4th year: 23-16
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 21, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Houston Players
1. QB Case Keenum, Sr.
2. LB Marcus McGraw, Sr.
3. WR Patrick Edwards, Sr.
4. LB Sammy Brown, Sr.
5. RB Bryce Beall, Sr.
6. G Chris Thompson, Sr.
7. WR Tyron Carrier, Sr.
8. RB Michael Hayes, Sr.
9. DE David Hunter, Sr.
10. LB Phillip Steward, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 UCLA
Sep. 10 at North Texas
Sep. 17 at Louisiana Tech
Sep. 24 Georgia State
Oct. 1 at UTEP
Oct. 8 East Carolina
Oct. 22 Marshall
Oct. 29 Rice
Nov. 5 at UAB
Nov. 12 at Tulane
Nov. 19 SMU
Nov. 26 at Tulsa

After last season's debacle, Houston is hoping for a do-over in 2011.

Slated as a possible BCS buster last fall, the Cougars fell on hard times and missed the postseason all together, slipping to 5-7. Injuries played a key role, as Heisman-contending QB Case Keenum suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3. Houston was never the same, scoring points, but rarely enough to compensate for a leaky defense. However, Keenum was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in January, a much-needed shot in the arm for setting the turnaround in motion.

For the last four years, Keenum has been the face of the program and, to a lesser extent, Conference USA. The catalyst for one of the nation's highest-scoring attacks, he was a magician at running the pass-happy offense and getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. His return means the Cougars will once again have its swagger, but also that the NCAA record books might be ready to be rewritten. Health aside, he should have enough games to eclipse Timmy Chang's career mark for passing yards and Graham Harrell's record for touchdown passes. More important, he gives the program a chance to again be relevant on a national scale.

After just three seasons, Kevin Sumlin has already become a hot commodity among athletic directors, fielding offers and keeping his agent busy. Two losing seasons, though, will be the fastest way to anonymity. Avoiding that fate will require the coach to repair a defense that's been the Achilles' heel since he arrived. The Cougars yield too many big plays, can't stop the run, and must rebuild the secondary from the bottom up. It's no wonder the offense remains the calling card in Space City.

Keenum and Sumlin are back, and so are the expectations at Houston. There's more than enough senior talent and fireworks for this team to return to the 10-win mark and compete for a Conference USA crown. Heck, if the defense can start pulling its weight, the Cougars might get back in the BCS discussion after all.

What to watch for on offense: The backs. Sure, the passing game makes the headlines, but the running backs are the most underrated cogs in this system. Starter Bryce Beall has a 5-11, 215-pound frame that's going to attract interest from the NFL and second-year JUCO transfer Michael Hayes proved to be a dynamite runner and receiver in his debut. Oh, and don't forget about Charles Sims, the 2009 Freshman of the Year, who sat out last season for academic reasons. Whether running the ball or taking dump-offs, it's a dangerous trio that cannot be dismissed by opposing defenses.

What to watch for on defense: The new cornerbacks. Just as the Cougars started making progress in 2010, the defensive backfield gets gutted by graduation, leaving behind a mess of uncertainty. In response, the staff went to Navarro (Tex.) College to sign corners D.J. Hayden and Chevy Bennett, who quickly rose to the top of the depth chart in the spring. Both imports have good size and instincts, needing to quickly plug the holes in a pass defense poised to spring all kinds of leaks. Houston has had success with JUCOs recently, and has its fingers crossed that Hayden and Bennett are quick learners.

This team will be far better if … the run defense makes strides. The Cougars were gutted for more than 200 yards a game last season, wearing out an already thin unit. Not only does a poor run defense impact the psyche of the D, but it keeps the ball out of the potent offense's hands for extended periods of time. Linebackers Marcus McGraw, Sammy Brown, and Phillip Steward are vastly underrated, but need to make even more stops at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Schedule: The Cougars get their chance to make a huge statement right away against UCLA, and then they go on the road for three games in four weeks befroe the showdown for a possible Conference USA title preview against East Carolina. Three of the final four games are on the road, but two of the games - UAB and Tulane - aren't that bad and the huge West game against SMU is at home. Even with a favorable schedule, including missing Southern Miss and UCF from the East, it'll all probably come down to the huge regular season finale battle against Tulsa on the road.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Case Keenum. The latest in a long line of prolific Cougar passers that's included Kevin Kolb, Andre Ware, and David Klingler, Keenum is back for a sixth year. Beyond just his staggering passing numbers, he has good mobility outside the pocket, and is a calm leader of the program. With a firm grasp on this unique system and the playmakers comprising it, he'll again pile up numbers while keeping all of his backs and receivers sated in the process.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Marcus McGraw. Because of his size and surroundings, he tends to get a little lost in the shuffle, but he sure has a knack for being around the football. An instinctive 6-0, 225-pounder, he perennially piles up more than 100 tackles and will lower the boom on his target. Playing much bigger than his size and rarely missing tackle, he's the cover boy of a corps of linebackers that'll be among the most disruptive in Conference USA.

Key player to a successful season: Junior NG Tyrone Campbell. Yeah, it's unfair to single out just one player on a run defense that's so feeble, but Campbell plays an important part of the process. It's up to him to get penetration whenever possible and occupy more than one opposing lineman. If he can eat up multiple blocks on running downs, it'll allow the ends, linebackers, and safeties to sift through traffic and get to the ball faster.

The season will be a success if ... Houston wins Conference USA. Now that Keenum is back in the fold and the program returns 16 starters, the Cougars are instantly as talented as any team in the conference. Sure, the defense is a liability, but most are in this league, and Houston has the offensive firepower to offset plenty of deficiencies. If the Cougs are genuinely poised to rebound after finishing below .500, they'll need to finish the year in the Liberty Bowl.

Key game: Nov. 26 at Tulsa. Though the opener with UCLA provides a shot at redemption for last September's debacle, the path to a league championship likely goes through Tulsa. These two similar programs have developed an intriguing rivalry built around high-powered offenses and all-star quarterbacks, Keenum and G.J. Kinne. Although SMU might still have something to say about this race, there's a good chance the winner of this game will earn an extra game a week later versus the East Division champ.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Total offense: Houston 5,766 – Opponents 5,194
- Time of possession: Houston 25:38 – Opponents 34:22
- Sacks: Houston 20 - Opponents 12

- 2011 Houston Preview | 2011 Houston Offense
- 2011 Houston Defense | 2011 Houston Depth Chart
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