2007 Houston Preview

Posted Jun 19, 2007

The defending Conference USA champion Houston Cougars might have to retool a little bit, but this will still be one of the favorites to win the title. Home run hitter Anthony Alridge leads another dangerous offense.

Houston Cougars

Preview 2007

By Richard Cirminiello   

- 2007 Houston Offense Preview  | 2007 Houston Defense Preview
2007 Houston Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Houston Preview 

In four seasons, Art Briles has sparked a revival of Houston football, leading the school to three bowl games and last year’s Conference USA championship.  Now he’ll have to prove he can keep the momentum rolling without quarterback Kevin Kolb, the coach’s trusted triggerman and undisputed leader of the Cougar rebirth.

As much as any player in the country, Kolb was a catalyst and the face of his program’s fortunes, confidently running Briles’ version of the spread offense since his days at Stephenville (Tex.) High School.  Now, in step Blake Joseph and Case Keenum, who have combined to throw just eight career passes.  Add in the graduations of top runner Jackie Battle, leading receiver Vincent Marshall and a pair of all-league defenders, and the Cougar caravan could face a temporary detour in 2007.

Head coach: Art Briles
5th year: 26-24
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 26, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Cougar Players
RB/KR Anthony Alridge, Sr.
2. DE Phillip Hunt, Jr.
3. WR Donnie Avery, Sr.
4. WR Jeron Harvey, Sr.
5. LB Cody Lubojasky, Jr.
6. OG Jeff Akeroyd, Sr.
7. LB Trent Allen, Sr.
8. CB Kenneth Fontenette, Jr.
9. S Rocky Schwartz, Sr.
10. S Ernest Miller, Jr. 

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5

Sept. 1

at Oregon

Sept. 15

at Tulane

Sept. 22

Colorado State

Sept. 29

East Carolina

Oct. 6

at Alabama

Oct. 13


Oct. 20

at UAB

Oct. 27


Nov. 4


Nov. 10

at Tulsa

Nov. 17


Nov. 24

Texas Southern

2006 Schedule
2006 Results:

9/2 at Rice W 31-30
9/9 Tulane W 45-7
9/16 Grambling St W 42-22
9/23 Oklahoma State W 34-25
9/30 at Miami L 14-13
10/7 UL Lafayette L 31-28
10/14 at So Miss L 31-27
10/21 UTEP W 34-17
10/28 UCF W 51-31
11/4 Tulsa W 27-10
11/11 at SMU W 37-27
11/18 at Memphis W 23-20 OT
12/1 C-USA Championship
Southern Miss W 34-20
12/29 Liberty Bowl
South Carolina L 44-36

 With so many changes, Houston figures to lean heavily on an offensive line that returns four starters, two who have earned all-league honors at some point in their careers.  Leading the way will be left guard Jeff Akeroyd and right tackle Dustin Dickinson, both of whom earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Until the offense finds its rhythm, the Cougars will rest their fortunes on the veterans in the trenches.  

Despite the potential for overhauls on both sides of the ball, there’s still a glow surrounding the Houston program that comes with winning a title.  And while the expectations are dramatically lower than a year ago, who’s to say Houston can’t contend for another Western Division crown if the young replacements adapt on the fly? Tulsa has a new head coach, UTEP faces a similar rebuilding and Rice, SMU and Tulane are still a rung beneath the Cougs.  In other words, the program will be shooting for a second straight title even without its star.  

What to watch for on offense: Briles’ spread offense is complex, diverse and tough to contain when all the parts are working.  It is not, however, a system that relies exclusively on the pass, as the perception might indicate.  The Cougars actually ran more than they threw in 2006, an ironclad way to keep defenses confused.  They’ll invent new ways to get the ball to mercurial Anthony Alridge, who averaged more than ten yards a carry last fall, but at 5-9 and 170 pounds, is still a situational player who can’t be used in short yardage.  As last year’s backup, Joseph is the front-runner to supplant Kolb, but a wild card is Al Pena, who’s trying to get an NCAA waiver to transfer from Oklahoma State without sitting out a season. 

What to watch for on defense: The Cougars will continue to work out of a 3-4 alignment in order to leverage their depth at linebacker.  Trent Allen, Cody Lubojasky, Rodney Rideau and Brendan Puhulu represent the strength of a defense that was surprisingly opportunistic in 2006.  Strong safety Rocky Schwartz, the leading tackler in 2005, returns from knee surgery to bolster a secondary that will be the biggest area of vulnerability.       

The team will be far better if …the offensive line allows the new quarterback to develop without being under constant pressure.  The Cougar front wall overcame injuries to excel in run blocking a year ago, but also allowed way too many sacks, something a first-year starter won’t overcome as easily as Kolb.     

The Schedule: The defending league champions are testing themselves early, with non-conference games at Oregon and Alabama and a home match with Colorado State, and they give themselves a treat to end the season against Texas Southern. In league play, they miss Southern Miss and get East battles against East Carolina and Marshall at home, but they have the key divisional showdown with Tulsa on the road. Three road games in four weeks won't be easy, but the Cougars close out with three home games in the final four.

Best Offensive Player: Senior OG Jeff Akeroyd. The 295-pound senior overcame a knee injury that cost him almost all of 2005 to become one of Conference USA’s best lineman and a key reason why Kolb had so much time to work. He’s a tremendous pass blocker and a physical run blocker who just now should be hitting his stride. He’ll be the one the team works behind.    

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Phillip Hunt. After a nice freshman season, the speedy 250-pounder became a star last year, leading the team with seven sacks to go along with 51 tackles. The defense struggled to get pressure throughout last year when he wasn’t on, and now he’ll be double and triple-teamed to force everyone else to start to make plays.     

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Blake Joseph. He doesn’t have to be Kolb for Houston to win, but he does have to be efficient and must keep the offense moving with both his arm and his legs. With a live arm and good scrambling ability, don’t be shocked if he’s better than many expect.

The season will be a success if ... Houston wins the West again. It won’t be easy with the Tulsa game on the road and so much uncertainty at some key spots, but after winning the title, not getting back to the championship game will be a major letdown. Winning the division would prove the program wasn’t all Kevin Kolb, while an also-ran season, or worse yet, a non-bowl year, would be a disastrous step back.

Key game: Nov. 10 at Tulsa. The Conference USA road slate is as easy as it comes, going to Tulane, UAB, and UTEP, but then it takes a nasty turn with the likely battle for the West title at Tulsa. If the Cougars can win their only November road game, they'll probably be playing for their second straight championship.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Second quarter scoring: Houston 144; Opponents 125
- Sacks: Houston 23 for 138 yards; Opponents 33 for 218 yards
- Penalties: Houston 95 for 813 yards; Opponents 77 for 617 yards


Related Stories
2007 Houston Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007
2007 Houston Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007
2007 Houston Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007

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