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CFN Preview 2013 - Houston Cougars
Houston RB Charles Sims
Houston RB Charles Sims
Posted May 5, 2013 2013 Preview - Houston Cougars

Houston Cougars

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Tony Levine
Second year: 5-7
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 20, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best Houston Players
1. RB Charles Sims, Sr.
2. LB Derrick Mathews, Jr.
3. FS Trevon Stewart, Soph.
4. WR Deontay Greenberry, Soph.
5. LT Rowdy Harper, Jr.
6. WR Dewayne Peace, Sr.
7. P Richie Leone, Jr.
8. QB David Piland, Jr.
9. CB Zach McMillian, Sr.
10. C Bryce Redman, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/30 Southern
9/7 at Temple
9/21 at Rice
9/28 at UTSA
10/12 Memphis
10/19 BYU
10/26 at Rutgers
10/31 USF
11/9 at UCF
11/16 at Louisville
11/23 Cincinnati
11/29 SMU
Houston is on the precipice of a new era. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Cougars are hoping to regroup after last season’s 5-7 collapse, a poor encore from the 13-1 campaign in the prior year. They’re beginning life in a new league, the American Athletic Conference, with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Oh, and to help christen all of the newness in Houston, the University is building a state-of-the-art facility that’s set to open in 2014.

Little went right for second-year head coach Tony Levine in his debut as the successor to Kevin Sumlin in 2012. Levine just appeared somewhat out of his league. But changes have been both promised and delivered. Doug Meacham was lured away from Oklahoma State to help tweak an offense that regressed last fall. Houston is a school that’s been defined over the years by the play of its quarterbacks, from David Klingler and Andre Ware to Case Keenum most recently.

Meacham’s main priority will be to get David Piland right or else find someone else capable of getting the job done at quarterback. The junior was a disappointment in 2012. But he’s surrounded by too much talent at the skill positions, including RB Charles Sims and a slew of good receivers, to repeat last season’s mediocrity.

Gibbs’ D? Well, it’ll be a work-in-progress. The unit that struggled badly last year to stop opponents is now being forced to replace seven starters. The Cougars are fast, attacking … and vulnerable, especially against big and physical opponents who can grind out yards on the ground. The bare-knuckles AAC could be a tall order for this group. Gibbs wants to turn his kids loose, allowing them to do what they do best, without having to think too much. Houston will get after it, which will result in sacks, takeaways and still too many blown plays.

It’s only Year 2 for Levine, but it’s a huge one nonetheless for him. The change in conference and the construction of a $100 million facility will bring more attention to the program. And the reconfigured staff is expected to produce immediate results on both sides of the ball. Last year was an unexpected bump in the road. This year, Houston hopes to return to college football’s small-conference fast lane.

What to watch for on offense: The evolution of the wide receivers. In 2012, the Cougars were young and rather inexperienced on the outside. This fall, however, they figure to be a lot more seasoned and ready for success. Last year’s top two pass-catchers, Dewayne Peace and Deontay Greenberry, were making their debuts in the program. Ditto speedy rookie Larry McDuffey, who led the team in touchdowns catches. The Cougars plan to use the tight ends a little more and the backs a little less, hoping to produce more long-gainers through the air than a year ago.

What to watch for on defense: Can the young ends produce? Houston is going to struggle versus the run this season. The team is just too small in the front seven to survive in a more physical league. However, the Cougars are hoping to compensate with their speed off the edge. Underclassmen Cameron Malveaux and Eric Eiland are lining up as the possible starting ends. Both have slight frames, but are so quick and athletic off the snap that they’re hoping to create havoc in the opposing backfield.

This team will be far better if … it takes a major step forward in red-zone efficiency. If Houston is going to turn things around this year, it’ll almost certainly be on the heels of the offense. And that offense has to do a better job of protecting the ball and putting up six points when it enters the red zone. The Cougars produced a touchdown just 52% of the time in 2012, a number the school wants to raise closer to 65% this season.

The Schedule: The team should be better but the schedule is tougher. While going to Rice isn’t like a normal road trip, and going to UTSA won’t be that bad, three straight away games after starting out the year against Southern might be a bit rough. Memphis shouldn’t be a bad Big East date before a rough non-conference game against BYU, and then it’s back on the road for three road games in four with trips to Rutgers, UCF and Louisville wrapped around a home date against USF and followed up with a home date against Cincinnati – uh oh. After facing the Bearcats, the regular season ends six days later against SMU.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Charles Sims. Sims is one of the country’s more complete backs that few people are talking about on a national level. That could change, though, if he can stay healthy for an entire year. The versatile all-purpose back is a two-time All-Conference USA selection, rushing for a team-best 851 yards and 11 touchdowns on 142 carries, while also catching 37 balls for 373 yards and three more scores. Sims is big and quick, and about to use his final year as an amateur to attract the attention of NFL scouts.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Derrick Mathews. In many ways, Mathews is the prototype on defense for the Cougars; he’s not very big, but, boy, can he cover a lot of ground and make his presence felt. At 6-0 and 207 pounds, he’s the ideal candidate to freelance as an impact player against the run and the pass. Testament to his athleticism, Mathews tied for second on the team with 126 tackles a season ago, while chipping in 17 stops behind the line, six sacks, five pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB David Piland. As the quarterback goes, typically so goes Houston, a program traditionally reliant on the passing game. Piland was, at best, middling in 2012, his second year as a starter after redshirting in 2011. For the sake of the team, he needs to be far more efficient after going 256-of-448 for 2,944 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 picks. The Cougars skill position players are the ones most likely to reignite this program. And it’ll be up to No. 8 to fully unlock the potential of the backs and receivers.

The season will be a success if ... the Cougars take no less than seven wins into the postseason. The schedule sets up very nicely for a fast start, with one game outside Texas prior to Oct. 26. Sure, the landscape is going to get much tougher as the season unfolds, but Houston should be able to build a head of steam by opening with Southern, Temple, Rice, UTSA and Memphis. This program is poised for a nice turnaround in 2013.

Key game: Oct. 26 at Rutgers. Yeah, Temple and Memphis are also AAC members, but a trip to Piscataway represents the Cougars’ first really important test as a member of the new league. The Scarlet Knights are typically physical and fundamentally sound on the defensive side of the ball. Houston is going to learn on this East Coast venture just how ready it is for a step up in competition. If the program is able to deliver an upset here, its goals and its ceiling for 2013 are going to shift higher in an instant.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Total offense: Houston 5,750 – Opponents 5,786
- Time of possession: Houston 24:57 – Opponents 35:02
- Sacks: Houston 36 - Opponents 18
- 2013 Houston Preview | 2013 Houston Offense
- 2013 Houston Defense | 2013 Houston Depth Chart