Head coach: Tom Herman
2014 Record: 8-5; 5-3 AAC
2014 Bowl: 35-34 Win over Pitt at Armed Forces Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +400000
Odds to win 2015 AAC Title: +700
Regular Season Wins: Over 8 (+115), Under 8 (-135)
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The Houston Cougars are still settling on a quarterback and have a lot of questions to be answered with its backfield and wide receivers.
Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman is in his first season and is not encouraged thus far by what he’s seen of his offense. The words “we;re not very good,” aren’t encouraging to hear from a head coach, and the offense recently has been stale for the Houston program.
QB remains open. Greg Ward Jr. and Adam Schultz are the front runners for the job, but both are still working with the first-team offense. Kyle Postma is with the second unit. Ward held the role last year and his experience does give him the edge as the incumbent Cougars’ QB. Houston went 6-2 with Ward in the pocket and it had a 25-point fourth quarter in the Armed Forces Bowl against Pitt.
RB is the best area for the Cougars with Kenneth Farrow and his 1,037 yards back in the fold. He led the AAC with 15 total TDs and Ryan Jackson is entering his senior year just like Farrow. The duo could be very good. However, since both are seniors the Cougars will have to devote time to developing younger players to ensure a smooth transition next season.
WR is an area of vast youth and inexperience for Houston. Deontay Greenberry’s departure pokes a nasty hole in the rotation give that he had 72 catches last year which was nearly double the next Cougars’ receiver. Demarcus Ayers and Steven Dunbar both caught 20 passes this year and that figure is going to have double for both of them.
Oregon transfer Chase Allen will be a fixture while the TE position will finally be utilized in Houston’s offense this year with the role falling to Tyler McCloskey most likely.
The OL is mortally weak with LT Zach Johnson and RT Alex Cooper the only two guaranteed starting roles. That weak OL limits the potential of the offense naturally, but it really only needs to be competent for Farrow to do his thing. The negative impact on Ward will be far more significant most likely.
Defensively Houston can be a real nasty team to opponents, after forcing 73 turnovers last year. It has a new coordinator in Todd Orlando, who comes from Utah State and will seek to employ a 3-4 scheme with a lot of pressure.
The secondary is the brightest spot defensively where it returns all four starters, including William Jackson who is drawing NFL attention and could depart after this season if he performs well. DE B.J. Singleton is the only returner on the line for the Cougars, though Nick Thurman and Cameron Malveaux were both strong in the spring.
Steven Taylor had four sacks last season and could be a great LB for the Cougars. Tyus Bowser will be used as an OLB and DE but will be vital in a lot of hybrid schemes that Orlando uses this season.
The returns have to get better for Houston. The Cougars ranked in the bottom half of the AAC in punt and kick returns. Ayers and Stewart will handle punt and kickoffs, though Ryan Jackson may be used in kickoff returns as well. Kyle Bullard and Logan Piper are competent at kicker and punter.
Herman is a good coach, so Houston could improve on last year’s eight wins. It just doesn’t seem likely, and Herman isn’t overly high on his group which is really a far worse sign than it might seem superficially. He won a national title at Ohio State though, so maybe he’s holding the bar too high for a much smaller and less prestigious program?
The Cougars are a tough team in the AAC and should be able to claim the West division crown. Beating Cincinnati, Temple and UCF for the AAC championship will prove to be a much tougher task.
It’s likely that this team regresses slightly this season, if only because of the lack of great options at QB and the inexperience of the OL. However, even with the regression Houston still could snag eight or nine wins. It faces UCF and Cincy on Oct 24 and Nov 7, but outside of that its schedule is rather soft and the chance is there for the team to start the season off strong, though Louisville will be a relatively tough test in Week 2. We’re going to expect the O/U to be correct here at 5dimes and predict the same win total for the Cougars.
Prediction: 8 wins