In a few hours, my beloved University of Houston Cougars will kick off against the Southern Jaguars, beginning the 2013 season. I was supposed to have written my season preview by now, but I never got around to it. Partly because I've been busy, and partly because I really don't know what to expect from the team this fall.
I'm hoping for a good year, but coming off last season's 5-7 disappointment, I can't say I'm particularly optimistic. David Piland, who had his share of struggles at quarterback last year, will start today's game. The offense's best weapon - running back Charles Sims - transferred to West Virginia over the offseason. The defense, which was 118th in the nation yards allowed last year, loses its two best players from last year ( Philip Steward and D.J. Hayden). The team is young; there are just eight seniors on the latest two-deep depth chart's 44 positions. This year's schedule is tougher - the Cougars have moved to the American Athletic Conference, a hybrid of former Big East and Conference USA schools, and (for one year, at least) are among the "haves" of the BCS world - making today's matchup the only "gimme" game of the slate. The Cougars will not have a true "home" this season; construction on the new UH football stadium is well underway, and the Coogs will be playing most of their 2013 games within the cavernous confines of Reliant Stadium.
If there's any reason for hope in 2013, it comes in the form of new coordinators: Doug Meacham on offense, who spent the last eight seasons at Oklahoma State and is familiar with the type of offense Houston runs, and David Gibbs on defense, who has both college and pro experience. Hopefully the experience these two bring to the coaches' table, as well as the fact that head coach Tony Levine himself now has a year of experience under his belt, will translate into a better-prepared team in 2013.
Aside from that, there's really not much reason to expect anything other than another mediocre season in 2013, and some of the preseason computer models bear that out. Jeff Sagarin's preseason ratings have the Coogs ranked 64th with a rating of 70.00. This would imply a predicted record of 7-5 when opponents' rankings and home field advantage are factored in. Preseason predictions generated by both Massey and Congrove, on the other hand, have the Cougars managing only 5 wins this year.
I generally agree with those predictions; I think a five,-, six- or seven-win season is most likely. If the Cougars can manage anything more than five wins, they will likely qualify for a lower-tier bowl appearance and that will give the team some needed encouragement heading into 2014. Another losing season, on the other hand, could result in the end of the Tony Levine era at Houston. I see the season breaking down like this:
Probable wins: Southern, at UTSA, Memphis, South Florida
Probable losses: BYU, at Rutgers, at Central Florida, at Louisville, Cincinnati
Toss-ups: at Temple, Rice, SMU
The scariest game, for me at least, is against UTSA in the Alamodome. The Roadrunners, who are now members of Conference USA, will be fired up and looking to make a statement against the Cougars. The only reason I have Temple as a toss-up, rather than a probable win, is because it involves a 1,500-mile road trip on the second weekend of the season.
Here's hoping for the best this fall. I'm going to go take a shower, clean out the cooler, head to the HEB at the corner of Buffalo Speedway and Bissonnet to stock up, and then head out to Reliant to set up my tailgate. Go Coogs!