I still am unsure what to expect from the Cougars and new head coach Kevin Sumlin this fall. I'll give that more thought when I write my annual Cougar football preview up sometime in August. It's always interesting to see what other observers have to say about the 2008 Houston Cougars, however, which is why I enjoyed reading this entry in the New York Times College Sports Blog. The blog ranks the Cougars #64 in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision this fall, and provides this prediction:
With experience on both sides of the line, a talented quarterback and a senior-laden secondary, the talent seems to be there to even make a run for the Conference USA title. However, this raises the question (an issue that must keep fans awake at night): how much of a drop-off – if any – can Houston expect with a new coach? While Sumlin has shown he can recruit, can he keep the offense rolling? The Countdown has a hard time believing that, despite getting a terrific young mind in Holgorsen, the Cougars can be as successful on the offensive side of the ball in Sumlin’s first season as they were under Briles. For that reason, I have Houston finishing second behind Tulsa in the West for the second straight year, though it will have no difficulty reaching bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year: 8-4, 6-2 in Conference USA, with one of those losses coming at home to Tulsa in mid-November.
I think that's a fair assessment. Aside from the fact that hiring a coach with no previous head coaching experience always poses something of a risk (although, given Sumlin's background, I do believe the risk associated with his hire is minimal), the fact is that the Cougar offense is going to have to learn and become comfortable with a new coaching staff's scheme, and do it without last year's offensive stars like Anthony Alridge and Donnie Avery. That means, plain and simple, that the offense is going to struggle for at least the first few weeks of the season, if not the entire year. If the Coogs can overcome that obstacle and put enough points to repeat least year's 8-4 record, then I certainly won't be complaining.
Moreover, my biggest hope for Sumlin and his staff isn't their offensive production. Rather, I want to see them do something to rectify the "Unholy Trinity" of turnovers, penalties and lousy special teams play that plagued the Coogs under the Art Briles regime. If Sumlin and his staff can work on these fundamentals and exorcise this demon of sloppiness from the team, then maybe offensive production won't be as big of a concern. A few more yards on a kick return here and a few less turnovers there, not to mention more successful field goal attempts and fewer drive-killing penalties, can add up to points, and wins, on their own.
Despite the uncertainty of hiring a new coach, bringing in a new staff, and installing a new offensive scheme, I'm looking forward to the start of the season. College football is my favorite sport and besides, I've watched enough cricket, soccer and rugby over here to last me awhile.