Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 Houston Cougar football preview

Once again, I've either been too busy or too lazy to write a detailed take on the 2014 University of Houston football season, which begins in a few hours. So I'll make this brief and refer readers to Paul Meyerberg's excellent write-up in USA Today and this preview by Yardbarker if they want more detail and analysis.

Looking Back: The Cougars managed an 8-5 record in in 2013, exceeding most preseason expectations but ending the year with four losses in their last five games, including a 41-24 drubbing by Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Big Story for 2014: TDECU Stadium, which makes its debut tonight. After spending its entire 68-season existence playing in "other peoples' venues" - Rice Stadium, the Astrodome, Reliant Stadium, and a Robertson Stadium which, while located on campus, was originally a 1940 New Deal project for HISD - the UH football program finally has a home built purposely for it.

Reasons for Optimism: the offense returns a lot of talent in the skill positions, including quarterback John O'Korn, wide receivers Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer, and running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow. The defense returns nine starters from a squad that led the nation in turnovers last year. Much of the credit for that amazing feat goes to defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who returns for a second season.

Reasons for Pessimism: the offensive line is an area of real concern. I'm also not sold on offensive coordinator Travis Bush, who wasn't particularly impressive when he served as interim OC in 2012. On defense, the secondary is an area of concern. And I've got to wonder if 43 turnovers is a feat that can actually be replicated, or just a one-season fluke?

The Schedule: as I've already discussed, it looks pretty easy, with seven home games and no teams from so-called "Power Five" conferences.

What the Computers Think: Sagarin's preseason rankings start the Coogs at 57. His ratings imply a record of 10-2 for Houston, when opponent rankings and home field advantage are taken into account: losses to BYU and Cinci and a squeaker win over UCF at home. Massey suggests the Coogs will go 9-3, with losses to BYU, UCF and Cinci. Congrove has the same prediction.

What I Think: this team should go 9-3 or even 10-2, given the returning talent and the schedule. However, I'm worried about the offensive line and Travis Bush has yet to prove to me that he is a quality offensive coordinator. This fall's team, like last fall's, is going to rely largely on its defense, and although I have a lot of faith in David Gibbs, it is unrealistic to expect them to manufacture 43 turnovers - a stat that led to so many of those victories last season - for a second straight fall.

I'm going to lower my expectations a bit and predict an 8-4 regular season. The Coogs will lose to BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and either Memphis or SMU. This first game against UTSA, in fact, scares me a lot.

Anyway, it's time to get dressed and head to the tailgate, as my favorite time of the year is upon us. Go Coogs!

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