2012 Houston Preview

Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Houston Cougars

Houston Cougars

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Tony Levine
First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 17 7
Ten Best Houston Players
1. RB Charles Sims, Jr.
2. LB Phillip Steward, Sr.
3. CB D.J. Hayden, Sr.
4. OT Jacolby Ashworth, Sr.
5. LB Derrick Mathews, Soph.
6. QB David Piland, Soph.
7. OT Rowdy Harper, Soph.
8. S Kent Brooks, Jr.
9. C Kevin Forsch, Jr.
10. CB Zach McMillian, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Texas State
Sep. 8 Louisiana Tech
Sep. 15 at UCLA
Sep. 29 Rice
Oct. 6 North Texas
Oct. 13 UAB
Oct. 20 at SMU
Oct. 27 UTEP
Nov. 3 at East Carolina
Nov. 10 Tulsa
Nov. 17 at Marshall
Nov. 24 Tulane
Although the Cougars are about to embark on a completely new era, rookie head coach Tony Levine will do whatever is necessary this offseason to ensure that his team doesn’t stray too far from recent results.

Levine’s objective will not be a simple one. Not only has the staff been remade, but so has the vaunted passing game, which was the catalyst for last season’s school-record 13 wins and nation’s-best 49 points a game. Oh, and the changes at Houston aren’t relegated to what takes place on the field.

The upcoming season also marks the end of its 17-year affiliation with Conference USA, a fond farewell before beginning life as a member of the Big East in 2013. Levine refuses to admit that the Cougars are rebuilding, but a few permits will still be needed for renovations taking place on both sides of the ball.

On offense, Houston will be popping the cork on the David Piland era behind center now that record-breaking QB Case Keenum has run out of eligibility. The sophomore will be supported by a dynamite running back, Charles Sims, and a veteran line loaded with returning starters.

However, he’ll need to develop chemistry with a new receiving corps that was stripped by graduation. The defense loses two of its better players, linebackers Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown, as well, but has a nice base with which to work. The linebackers still harbor some playmakers, and the D.J. Hayden-led secondary will look to build on a stunningly good turnaround in 2011.

The times are changing, but the expectations around the Houston campus are very much the same. With Levine now at the helm, and Piland barking out signals, the Cougars expect to pile up the points, fill the air with tight spirals and compete for a title. At an absolute bare minimum, the new regime wants to be in a position to hit the ground running by the time it joins a tougher conference next summer.

What to watch for on offense: The wide receivers to duke it out for one more round in the summer. Everyone at Houston wants to see what the two-deep will look like in the fall, especially the coaching staff. Last year’s top receivers have graduated, leaving the program with a hodgepodge of holdovers and newcomers. Someone is going to catch a lot of passes in this offense, but it remains to be seen if the chief beneficiary will be senior Ronnie Williams, junior Dewayne Peace, sophomore Daniel Spencer or even true freshman Deontay Greenberry.

What to watch for on defense: The development of the pass rush. Last year’s sack total was inflated by the insanely productive year of outside linebacker Sammy Brown. However, now that Brown is trying his hand at the NFL, it remains to be seen whether the Cougars can mount a rush in a more traditional fashion. The defensive ends have plenty to prove, or else the program will once again be forced to unleash its better athletes on the blitz. Kelvin King and Zeke Riser are the steady veterans, but backups Lloyd Allen and Desmond Pulliam are wild cards who get their reps and opportunities.

This team will be far better if … the run defense stiffens when it matters. A year ago, the Cougars ranked 80th nationally against the run, while allowing 4.2 yards per carry. When Houston is soft against the run, it reduces the number of times that the offense gets its paws on the ball. And when the Cougs are unable to get their high-powered offense on the field, the team’s odds of winning go down. Long drives by the opposition are like kryptonite for Houston.

The Schedule: The Cougars have a few interesting non-conference battles to deal with hosting a strong Louisana Tech team - likely the best team in the WAC by far - followed up by a trip to UCLA. Missing Southern Miss and UCF should make the conference race nice and easy, even with a trip to SMU along with road games at East Carolina and Marshall. There aren't two road games in a road and there isn't a bad run of away dates with just three after the UCLA game on September 15th.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Charles Sims. Sims made a triumphant return after sitting out 2010, even if his exploits were drowned out by the team’s prolific passing game. One of the country’s most underrated all-purpose players is about to shed some anonymity. No jitterbug, the 6-0, 206-pounder can work his magic between the tackles as well as outside them. As a key component of last season’s 49-point-a-game attack, he rushed for 821 yards and nine scores on only 110 carries, while catching 51 passes for 575 yards and four more touchdowns.

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB D.J. Hayden. Hayden wound up being one of the gems of the 2011 recruiting class, an instant impact player out of Navarro (Tex.) Junior College. At a time when the Cougars were pining for help in the secondary, the gifted corner delivered beyond expectations. Seemingly everywhere on D, the Conference USA Defensive Newcomer of the Year made 66 tackles, eight stops behind the line, two interceptions, five forced fumbles and a team-high 11 passes defended. The 6-0, 190-pound Hayden has good size to go along with the cover skills to draw interest from NFL scouts.

Key player to a successful season: True freshman Deontay Greenberry. Unfair? Of course. Accurate? You bet. Houston boasts an underrated defense, but this program still sinks or swims with its offense. And the biggest concern associated with the system falls squarely on a corps that was decimated by graduation. Young as he may be, the five-star Greenberry has as much ability as any of the returning Cougars. If he can provide a spark in the passing game, replacing Case Keenum at the controls gets a wee bit easier for sophomore QB David Piland.

The season will be a success if ... Houston wins the West Division. Why not? The new coach was a respected hire from in-house, the talent matches anyone in the league and the holdovers know what it takes to win. Oh, and the balance of the division has suffered key hits since the end of 2011 as well. Even in a post-Case Keenum world, the Cougars still have the necessary ingredients to exit Conference USA with some hardware packed inside the moving trucks.

Key game: Oct. 18 at SMU. Although Tulsa might also have something to say about the West Division race, it’s possible that all roads to the Conference USA Championship Game could go through Dallas. And that’s exactly where the Cougars will be in the middle of October, looking to gain an edge in the divisional race. Houston has won the last six in a long rivalry that dates back to the days when both schools were members of the Southwest Conference.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: Houston 54 – Opponents 19
- Interceptions thrown: Houston 6 – Opponents 21
- Sacks: Houston 31 - Opponents 18
- 2012 Houston Preview | 2012 Houston Offense
- 2012 Houston Defense | 2012 Houston Depth Chart