Houston Preview 2006
Houston Cougars
Posted Aug 7, 2006

It's corner turning time. The chance will never be better for Houston to win the Conference USA title and have a shot to grow into a bit of a power than this season with a whopping 17 returning starters, good depth on defense, a loaded receiving corps, and a quarterback with 36 starts under his belt.

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

Head coach Art Briles has done a wonderful job of taking the moribund program and making it competitive enough to play in two bowl games in the last three seasons, but every time it seems like the team is at the point of making a big statement, it collapses.

The 2005 team overcame injuries and inexperience at key spots to have a strong season, but failed to come up with a big win when the spotlight was on. There was the 44-41 overtime loss to UTEP with QB Kevin Kolb having as much fun throwing it to the Miners as he did getting it to his guys. There was the loss to UCF that killed any dreams of playing for the Conference USA title. And then there was the complete debacle in the Fort Worth Bowl getting blasted 42-13 by an average Kansas team.

Head coach: Art Briles
4th year (16-20)
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 20, ST 6
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Cougar Players
1. QB Kevin Kolb, Sr.
2. WR Vincent Marshall, Sr.
3. LB Wade Koehl, Sr.
4. SS Rocky Schwartz, Jr.
5. FS Will Gulley, Sr.
6. OT SirVincent Rogers, Jr.
7. CB Willie Gaston, Sr.
8. LB Brandon Pahulu, Jr.
9. NT Marquay Love, Sr.
10. WR Donnie Avery, Jr.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: coming

9/2 at Rice
9/9 Tulane
9/16 Grambling State
9/23 Oklahoma State
9/30 at Miami
10/7 UL Lafayette
10/14 at Southern Miss
10/21 UTEP
10/28 UCF
11/4 Tulsa
11/11 at SMU
11/18 at Memphis

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2005 Results: 6-6

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/1 Oregon L 38-24
9/10 S Houston St W 31-10
9/16 at UTEP L 44-41 2OT
10/1 at Tulsa W 30-23
10/8 at Tulane W 35-14
10/15 Memphis L 35-20
10/22 at Miss State W 28-16
11/5 at UCF L 31-29
11/13 Southern Miss W 27-24
11/19 SMU L 29-24
11/26 Rice W 35-18
12/23 Fort Worth Bowl
Kansas L 42-13

However, last year might have been what was needed for a big 2006. Houston played well in a loss to an Oregon team that ended up being on the fringe of playing in the BCS, beat eventual conference champion Tulsa, won at Mississippi State, and lost to UTEP, UCF and SMU by a total of ten points. A veteran team wins those types of close games, and this one has experience to burn.

It all starts with Kolb, who has the ability to crank out 400 yards of total offense when he gets hot, but has the knack for throwing interceptions at the worst times. But that's a recent problem; he's generally a good decision maker who should go ballistic this year with a receiving corps that should be the best in the league thanks to the return of Vincent Marshall and the arrival of Arizona transfer Biren Ealy.

The defense should make an even bigger jump with a linebacking corps and a secondary that should be among the best in the league, and a front three that has size and potential with sophomore end Cody Pree and Phillip Hunt ready to break out.

So now it comes down to how well the team plays in the role as favorite. UTEP and Tulsa will be good, but Houston should be the preseason favorite in the West and will have to play like it out of the gate. There will be plenty of shootouts, plenty of scoring, and plenty of big plays for good and bad. In the end, the turnaround should be complete.

The Schedule: It's a picnic. The schedule can't be used as an excuse if Houston doesn't end up playing for the Conference USA title thanks to a beauty of a three-game home stretch playing UTEP, UCF and Tulsa after the big road trip to Southern Miss. The regular season ender at Memphis will be a battle, but a veteran team like the Cougars should be good enough to pull that off if they play as well as expected. Considering one of the road games is at Rice, which is right down the road, and one of the other away dates is in Dallas to play SMU, the road schedule isn't all that bad. There will be good national tests against Miami and Oklahoma State. The Cougars can't beat the Canes, but they sure can hang with the Cowboys.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Kevin Kolb. The senior has cranked out 9,752 yards of career offense with 55 touchdown passes and 17 touchdown runs. Considering the talent he has at receiver to work with, and considering he threw for 3,258 yards last year, a 3,387-yard passing season, which would make him Conference USA's all-time leading passer, isn't out of reach.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Wade Koehl. There are several good defenders on the Cougars with safeties Rocky Schwartz and Will Gulley also deserving of being considered the team's best defensive player, but Koehl is the leader of the D and the main playmaker in the front seven. He's a quick 6-2 and 230 pounds with a nose for getting into the backfield with 26 career tackles for loss and eight sacks to go along with 262 career tackles.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore PK Ben Bell and junior PK T.J. Lawrence. The offense will put up plenty of points and yards, but the difference between a good, bowl-berth season and a Conference USA title might come down to the kicking considering Houston lost to UTEP by three, UCF by two, and SMU by five thanks to two missed field goals. Lawrence is the long range bomber while Bell is the close range specialist. The two have to be better than 13 of 22.

The season will be a success if ... Houston wins the Conference USA title. There won't be the same mix of starting experience and a favorable schedule for a long time. The first ten-win season since 1990 is also an attainable goal.

Key game: Oct. 14 at Southern Miss. If all goes as planned, Houston will be 5-1 or at worst 4-2 before going to play Southern Miss. A win over the Golden Eagles would do wonders for the team's confidence before the critical homestand against UTEP, UCF and Tulsa, while a loss might mean there can't be a slip over those final three home dates.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- Houston first quarter scoring: 55. Houston second quarter scoring: 118
- Average yards per pass: Houston 7.7 - Opponents 6.4
- Rushing touchdowns: Houston 23 - Opponents 12

The Last Time Houston…
…played in a bowl game…2005 (Fort Worth Bowl v. Kansas)
…missed a bowl game…2004
…pitched a shutout…1999 (UL-Lafayette)
…was shutout…2000 (Texas)
…scored 50 points…2003 (UAB)
…went undefeated…Never
…won a conference title…1996 (share, C-USA)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…2005 (Kevin Kolb)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Ryan Gilbert)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2004 (Vincent Marshall)
…had a first-round draft choice…1997 (RB Antowain Smith)

Related Stories
Houston 2006 Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006
Houston Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006
Houston Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006

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