Sunday, November 25, 2012

Coogs end disappointing season with 5-7 record

The disaster that was the 2012 University of Houston football season ended on a high note last Saturday, as the Cougars defeated the Tulane Green Wave, 40-17.

Senior quarterback Crawford Jones, making his second start in a row, completed 25 of 46 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns (but also three interceptions) and freshman running back Ryan Jackson carried the ball 16 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, forced six Tulane turnovers and held the Green Wave running game to 43 yards for the entire game. The game was also the final game ever to be played at Robertson Stadium; I'll have more on this in a future entry.

 The win over Tulane was merely for pride; the Coogs guaranteed themselves a losing season (and eliminated themselves from bowl contention) when they lost to Marshall the previous weekend. Houston started out slow, falling behind 17-0 early in the game and trailing 38-17 late in the third quarter, but then mounted a furious rally to tie the game 41-41 late in the fourth. Although the Cougars might have even won the game had they called better plays and exercised better clock management on their final possession, the Thundering Herd kicked the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of the game to clinch the 44-41 victory.

So now the season is over, and the post-football blues have set in.

No bowl game. I get to sit on my couch this holiday season and watch a bunch of other teams play in bowls while my team stays home.

No "feel-good" story about battling back from a disastrous start to a season. I was feeling good about the direction of this team after the Coogs put together three-game winning streak. They went on to lose four out of their last six.

And, no momentum heading into next season as the Cougars change conferences.

So what happened? Why did a team I predicted to notch at least eight wins in 2012 turn out to be "the most disappointing team in college football?" There's no question that a lot of talent was lost from last season, including Case Keenum, four starting wide receivers, two running backs and a handful of strong defensive players, not to mention Kevin Sumlin and most of his coaching staff. However, you're simply not going to convince me that the 2012 University of Houston football team was so bereft of talent that they could manage only five wins against such an easy schedule. Much of the blame has to fall of first-year coach Tony Levine and his staff. Last week, the Chronicle's Joseph Duarte took stock of the current situation:
A year ago, the Cougars were on the verge of putting the final touches on an unbeaten regular season and one win from joining the list of BCS busters.
Now, the Cougars need a win Saturday just to avoid matching their most losses since going 3-8 in 2004.
After an 0-3 start, which included a season-opening home loss to Football Bowl Subdivision newcomer Texas State, the Cougars climbed to .500 but never any better. UH didn't hold a lead until the fourth game of the season. A fitting bookend, they haven't led in any of the last three games.
The offseason switch to a four-man defensive front has come into question. Under first-year coordinator Jamie Bryant, the Cougars rank 102nd or worse in four major statistical categories.
Levine will conduct an offseason evaluation of the program starting next week.
There could be changes made to his staff. The David Piland era at quarterback appears to be over, with the Cougars expected to open up the competition in the spring and into preseason camp with the possible addition of a junior college quarterback and recruit John O'Korn from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"It starts with me," said Levine, who is on the hot seat with four years remaining on his contract but expected to return.
"I know where our program is headed, and I have a very, very, very clear understanding of what we have to do moving forward in a short amount of time to get where we are going to be," Levine said.
I can only hope that this isn't bluster coming from Levine and that really does understand what is needed in order for this team to improve; the team's performance over the course of the season as well as his bumbled hire of an offensive coordinator that he fired one game into the season don't give me a lot of faith in his abilities at the moment. But the program is stuck with Levine for the time being; there's no money with which to buy out his contract, and firing a head coach after one season would certainly generate bad publicity. The assistant coaches, however, are fair game and I hope to see a lot of changes over the offseason. Defensive coordinator Bryant, for starters, needs to be shown the door.

It's too early to predict what the Cougars are going to look like in 2013. Right now nobody even knows for sure where the Cougars are going to be playing their home games next year and, with conference realignment once again afoot it's anyone's guess as to what teams the Cougars will be playing in their new conference next fall. The only thing for certain is that the program needs to make some serious upgrades over the offseason - in the staff room as well as the locker room - lest this past season's buzzkill be repeated.

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