2014 CFN Preview - Houston Cougars
Houston QB John O'Korn
Houston QB John O'Korn
Posted Jul 20, 2014

Preview 2014 - Watch out - Houston is about to sling it around again. (Getty Images)

Houston Cougars

Preview 2014

- Houston Previews 
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By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 Houston Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Tony Levine
Third year: 13-12
Returning Lettermen
Off. 20, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Houston Players
1. WR Deontay Greenberry, Jr.
2. FS Trevon Stewart, Jr.
3. LB Derrick Matthews, Sr.
4. QB John O’Korn, Soph.
5. LB Efrem Oliphant, Sr.
6. SS Adrian McDonald, Jr.
7. DT Joey Mbu, Sr.
8. LB Steve Taylor, Soph.
9. WR Daniel Spencer, Sr.
10. C Bryce Redman, Sr. .
2014 Schedule

Aug. 29 UTSA
Sep. 6 Grambling
Sep. 11 at BYU
Sep. 20 UNLV
Oct. 2 UCF
Oct. 11 at Memphis
Oct. 17 Temple
Nov. 1 at USF
Nov. 8 Tulane
Nov. 22 Tulsa
Nov. 28 at SMU
Dec. 6 at Cincinnati

Houston is about to take a page out of its own past.

The Cougars through the years are best defined by their former gunslingers, such as David Klingler, Andre Ware, Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum. Sophomore John O’Korn could be next in line to ring up monster numbers through the air. He put down a very solid foundation as a true freshman in 2013, throwing for 28 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

And now he returns most of his top receivers, namely Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer, and running back. After lacking efficiency on offense in 2013, the Cougars are going to be a handful for American defenses this year.

Houston embarked on a new era last season, going 8-5 in its debut in the American. It was a particularly important rebound for head coach Tony Levine, who got off to a sluggish 5-7 start as the successor to Kevin Sumlin in 2012. Now, the Cougars, armed with a deep veteran roster, are eyeing their first conference since 2006.

Now that O’Korn is a year older, the offense expects to be markedly more efficient, especially since the team has weapons up and down the depth chart. But this is no one-dimensional team, fueling its title hopes. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs performed miracles in his first season at Houston, and his attacking unit should be every bit as opportunistic in 2014.

The Cougars allow yards, sure. However, they compensate with takeaways, 43 last season to easily lead the country. And Houston didn’t just generate a lot of turnovers. They also yielded 14 fewer points and 68 fewer yards per game than in the previous year. Stingier, ball-hawking defense plus an up-and-coming offense will equal a lot of wins for the Cougars this season.

Houston still needs to get over the hump. Three straight November losses to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati by an average of six points remain fresh in the players’ minds. Still, there’s a growing sense that the Cougars are on the brink of an exciting revival. The coach is young. The quarterback is on the tarmac. The league is new. And the program is set to unveil a new $100 million state-of-the-art stadium to recruits in the region. There’s a lot to be excited about for the Cougars and their fans, as the program braces for a run toward 10 wins and an American crown.

What to watch for on offense: Ward-ing off predictability. Opposing defenses know about QB John O’Korn, WR Deontay Greenberry and the backfield tandem of Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow. But sophomore Greg Ward is a somewhat secret who’ll add a new dimension to the attack. While he arrived as a quarterback, the 5-10, 175-pounder is too athletic to keep on the sidelines. The Cougars plan to use Ward at wide receiver, though the plan is to get the ball in his hands in numerous ways to keep defenses guessing.

What to watch for on defense: Who replaces Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates at cornerback? Turnover at corner is arguably the biggest concern for the Cougars entering 2014. The program is set at safety with all-star candidates Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald, which is comforting for the defensive backfield. But there’s going to be a mad scramble at cornerback, with former JUCO transfers William Jackson and Turon Walker duking it out with a pair of FBS transfers, Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah).

This team will be far better if … the offense delivers when it matters most. Houston looks the part on offense, with all of its talented athletes, but the end results weren’t always up to the staff’s liking. In 2013, the Cougars were 93rd nationally in third-down conversions and 85th in red-zone touchdown percentage. It’s no wonder that the team couldn’t get out of neutral in three November losses to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati, when it averaged just 15 points per game.

The Schedule: With four home games in the first five, the Cougars have a shot at a great start. However, the lone road game is at BYU, and the end of the homestand is against UCF - who's still excellent. There isn't really a big run of road games until the end, with the final two dates at SMU and Cincinnati that'll make or break the season, but with so many winnable home games, the Cougars should be in the hunt for the conference title all season long. In non-conference play, along with the trip to BYU, dealing with UNLV won't be easy, but starting out the year with UTSA and Grambling at home will help.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Deontay Greenberry. Greenberry’s breakout sophomore season didn’t just benefit him personally. It helped with rookie QB John O’Korn transition to the lineup, which means the entire offense benefitted from the receiver’s pass-catching heroics. Greenberry is a quarterback’s best ally, because of his size, 6-3 and 198 pounds, his yards after the catch and his ability to go up high to pluck balls out of the air. With a full year together, O’Korn-to-Greenberry will be one of the nation’s underrated pitch-and-catch combos of 2014.

Best Defensive Player: Junior FS Trevon Stewart. Stewart is a microcosm for everything that Houston wants to be on defense. He’s fast, he’s frenetic and he knows how to get his hands on the ball. In fact, he led the country with 10 turnovers a season ago. Beyond just the numbers, though, Stewart brings a certain irreplaceable vibe and swagger to the Cougar D. When he gets going, which is often, his energy becomes contagious to the fans, the sidelines and the rest of his defensive teammates.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Trevon Randle. Does Houston need Randle this year? Technically, no. But his potential is so high that he’s liable to elevate the defense to a higher level. Randle is the former LSU Tiger, who was supposed to play linebacker in 2013 before being shut down by the staff for an undisclosed reason. Now he’s joined an already deep rotation up front, with the intent of bringing more explosiveness to the Cougar pass rush. If the 6-2, 218-pound Randle is finally able to deliver on his four-star ranking, the entire defense is going to feel the impact.

The season will be a success if ... the Cougars win 10. Houston is a better all-around team than it was a year ago, when it went 8-5, so 10 victories shouldn’t be out of the question. The team is loaded on both sides of the ball, and the American became a little weaker after the departures of Louisville and Rutgers to the ACC and Big Ten, respectively. Oh, and the Cougar schedule is soft, including a pair of September visits from FCS teams, Grambling and Tennessee Tech, and avoiding East Carolina.

Key game: Dec. 6 at Cincinnati. Could the American title rest on the outcome of this pivotal tilt at Nippert Stadium? It’s possible, since both schools are expected to be in the hunt all year. The Cougars won’t have many nasty road games, save for a Sept. 11 trip to Provo to face BYU and this finale in Ohio. Cincy held off Houston last November, 24-17. This year’s meeting could hinge on the right arms of a pair of sophomores, Cougar John O’Korn and Bearcat Gunner Kiel.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Takeaways: Houston 43 – Opponents 18
- Third-quarter scoring: Houston 119 – Opponents 50
- Touchdown passes: Houston 30 - Opponents 15

- 2014 Houston Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players