Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2017 Houston Cougar Football Preview

It seems trite, and even insensitive, to write about college football as the as the death, property damage and human suffering tolls of Harvey mount. This is especially true for the Houston Cougars, whose players might have family members affected by the catastrophe and whose own facilities have been damaged by the floodwaters. The program's season opener against Texas-San Antonio, which was scheduled for this weekend, has been postponed.

With that said, we're all going to need some semblance of normalcy to return as the floodwaters recede and as college football season begins.* So what can be expected from the UH football program this fall?

Looking Back: the 2016 season started off with high hopes for the Cougars, who began the season with a signature upset of Oklahoma, and at one point were ranked as high as #6 in the AP poll before crashing down against Navy and SMU. Ravaged by injuries and constant rumors about the future of head coach Tom Herman (who fled to Austin at season's end), the Cougars ended the 2016 season unranked, with an 9-4 record and a bowl loss. USA Today gives the Cougars a C+ on the season; I know several UH fans who probably would have given the team an even lower grade, given the expectations they had going in to the season.

I accurately predicted that the Coogs would end the regular season with a 9-3 record (although I predicted one of the losses to be against Oklahoma, not Friggin' SMU!). The fact that the Cougars could beat Oklahoma and Louisville but still not end the season ranked was a disappointment for me.

The Big Story for 2017: for the second time in three seasons and the third time in six, the program has a new coaching staff. Former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite takes over the reigns as head coach. I've been familiar with Applewhite for about 20 years, as he was quarterback at Texas when I was a graduate student there. Applewhite's new offensive coordinator is Brian Johnson, whose previous coaching experience was at Utah and Mississippi State. Mark D'Onofrio, who was previously at Miami, is defensive coordinator.

Reasons for Optimism: the Cougars have some talent returning. Notably, defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a preseason All-American who may be one of the best defensive players in the country. Linebacker Matthew Adams, who led the team in tackles last year, returns as well. Seniors Khalil Williams and Garrett Davis anchor the secondary. On the offensive side of the ball, highly-recruited Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen is expected to take the reigns as starting quarterback. He'll be joined in the backfield by Duke Catalon, who was the team's leading rusher last year, and will have experienced targets in the form of senior wide receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar.

Another reason for optimism is that the Cougars aren't going into 2017 with the same set of pressures and distractions that they were facing a year ago. They're not in the conversation as a potential "playoff buster" this season, the Big XII expansion farce is not an issue this season, and they don't have to spend every week this season hearing chatter that their head coach is the top candidate for other jobs. The team might play better without these distractions hanging over their heads.

Reasons for Pessimism: aside from the uncertainty that a new coaching staff brings, the Cougars are also having to fill the holes left by the departures of many talented players, including quarterback Greg Ward Jr, wide receiver Chance Allen, linebacker (and second-round draft pick) Tyus Bowser, linebacker Steven Taylor, and defensive backs Howard and Brandon Wilson. It doesn't give me a lot of comfort that new DC Mark D'Onofrio was unemployed the entire 2016 season, or that Miami fans inundated Cougar message boards after UH hired him to tell us how horrible he was there and how big of a mistake we made by hiring him. The biggest problem on the offensive side of the ball is the offensive line, which gave up 98 TFLs last season. They're still suspect until proven otherwise.

The Schedule: the Cougars face two beatable P5 schools - Arizona and Texas Tech - and get the three teams that beat them last year - Navy, Memphis and SMU - at home this fall. It remains to be seen if the UTSA game will be rescheduled; that could have a significant effect on the team if, for example, it replaces the November 11 open date.

What the Pigskin Pundits Think: they're all over the place. Some people are a bit bearish on the Coogs; Athlon predicts a seven-win season for the Coogs, as does USA Today. Others are more optimistic: SBNation predicts a nine-win season for UH, CBS Sports thinks the Coogs will win at least nine games, and Saturday Blitz sees a ten-win campaign. Yardbarker doesn't predict a record but does think that the Cougars will have a better record without Tom Herman.

What the Computers Think: for whatever reason, the machines are all pretty optimistic. Sagarin seeds the Cougars in the #46 spot with a rating of 75.77. That implies a record of 10-2 when opponent ratings and home field advantage are taken into account. The Congrove algorithm, likewise, predicts a 10-2 record. Massey foresees a 9-3 campaign for the Coogs. ESPN's FPI, which has been updated to exclude the UTSA game, predicts a 9-2 record for the Cougars.

What I Think: a ten-win season would be a great start to the Major Applewhite era and a wonderful rebound from the relative disappointment of a year ago. Alas, I just don't see it happening. I think the Cougars have lost too much talent from a season ago, there's too much uncertainty surrounding the new coaching staff, no help has been provided to the struggling O-line (i.e. in the form of JUCO transfers), and Harvey and its aftermath will have a negative effect on the team's focus.

I predict a 7-5 record for the Cougars (6-5 if the UTSA game is not rescheduled).

*It already has, for two local universities. Although I'm sure it was a great experience for the players, did Rice really have to travel all he way to Australia just to get trounced by Stanford?!

(UPDATE: The UTSA will not be rescheduled.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017


I had planned to spend this weekend relaxing, unpacking boxes, doing some shopping and writing my season preview for the upcoming UH football season. However, Hurricane Harvey - a storm that just a week ago was expected to pass over the Yucatan Peninsula and move into Central Mexico as a weak tropical storm, but which instead broke towards the northwest and made landfall in Aransas Bay as a Category Four Hurricane last Friday evening and then stalled out - has altered my plans, as well as those of millions of others in the Houston region.

The good news is that my girlfriend, our animals and I am fine. I think my decision to move from a house that nearly flooded during the Memorial Day flood of a couple of years ago to the fourth floor of a concrete-block midrise apartment was a good one. My parents likewise, are fine. They experienced some street flooding but it didn’t get into any houses in their neighborhood. Ditto for Kirby and Lori.

The bad news is that I can’t say the same for tends of thousands of others in the Houston area, who have suffered catastrophic flooding of their homes and are being evacuated, in many cases by boat or by helicopter. Some of my friends have homes that have taken on water, or have roofs that are leaking from the sheer amount and duration of rainfall. The amount of rain that has fallen over the Houston area over the past three days has been unprecedented; the total rain amounts are easily going to surpass those for Tropical Storm Alison, whose massive 2001 flood was until now the region's benchmark for a devastating rain event.
                                                                                                  Jordan Tessler, Washington Post

Entire neighborhoods are flooded. Rivers and bayous are out of their banks and continue to rise. The city's roads and highways are underwater and travel around the area is next to impossible. Public transportation has been suspended; school districts have canceled classes for the week. Both airports are closed until at least Wednesday. Floodwaters have forced Ben Taub Hospital to be evacuated and have knocked a local TV station off the air. The visual reality of the flood is stunning:

It's not over yet, either. Harvey remains at tropical storm strength, and is forecast to loop back out over the Gulf of Mexico and come in again closer to the city. This means that more rain is probably on the way:

Some corners of social and traditional media are already comparing Harvey to Hurricane Katrina. It’s too early, of course, to survey the true impact of the storm, especially since it’s not over yet; it’s going to take weeks to truly understand Harvey’s devastation. But when I see the images on the news - of desperate people being plucked from their roofs by helicopters, of people walking through waist-deep water to seek shelter, of senior citizens sitting in floodwater while they wait to be rescued, of evacueees being sent to the George R Brown Convention Center - the parallels to Katrina are eerily similar.

I’ve been told to stay home from work for the next couple of days, so I’m not going to go anywhere. I will post more updates as the situation warrants.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Obligatory eclipse photo

Your Facebook feed was clogged with them today, so one more won't hurt:
I took this picture of the partially-eclipsed sun shining through the clouds with my iPhone; it actually turned out much nicer than the pictures I took when no clouds were in the way. Here in Houston, about 2/3rd of the sun was obscured at maximum eclipse. 

I'm already looking forward to the 2024 eclipse, because I won't have to travel too far to see it in totality. 

The teenager

As of today, my son turns 13 years old. You've come a long way, boy!

(Also: God help us all.)

Resuming transmissions

In my previous post I said I didn't intend to take a true hiatus from this blog over the summer months, but that's exactly how things turned out.

Which is to say, it's been a busy few months, and there's just wasn't any time to generate new posts. There were vacations to New Orleans (Kirby, my girlfriend and I took the Sunset Limited there, reprising, in the other direction, the train ride I took several years ago) and Cancun (including a stopover in Mexico City); there was a trip to central Texas for my aunt's 95th (!) birthday; I finally got to see a legend in concert; I got to do some fishing down at the Gulf; and, I moved.

Yes, the move was a real pain in the ass. It didn't help that I had to put all my stuff in storage and hang out at my parents for a few weeks while my girlfriend and I waited for our new place to become available. But we're here now, in a nice unit at a new apartment complex near Greenway Plaza. We're nowhere near finished unpacking - there are still boxes everywhere - but with every passing day this place feels more and more like home and my girlfriend and I are excited to begin the next phase of our lives here.

However, now that the move is complete and another football season is upon us - I received my UH football season tickets just a few days ago - it's time for the writing to resume. I'll have my customary season preview up in a few days (although it's going to be difficult to write because I really don't know what to expect from the Cougars this fall). I've also resolved to do what I didn't do for last year's big vacation, and put up some pictures of our trip to Mexico.