Head Coach: Tom Herman
2015 Record: 13-1
2015 Bowl: 38-24 Win over Florida State at Peach Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +10000
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +137
Regular Season over/under: 9.5 wins
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The Houston Cougars were offensive monsters last year, and there’s not really any other way to say it. The Cougars averaged 40.4 points per game, ranking No. 10 in the NCAA in Tom Herman’s wildly successful first year as head coach. Houston ranked No. 13 in rushing yards per game (235.8) and No. 44 in passing yardage (248.4) while ranking No. 20 in the nation in total yardage (484.1). They were the toast of the AAC and defeated Temple 24-13 to take the Conference title.
Greg Ward Jr. was the engine to the offense. The QB was one of only two players in the nation (the other being Clemson’s Deshawn Watson) to manage 1,000-plus rushing yards and 2,000-plus passing yards. Ward is back again, and Houston should be every bit as formidable as last season. The betting odds at 5dimes reflect this, with Houston being listed as +137 to take the AAC title.
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Houston will have complete turnover in its backfield, though, with all three of its top carriers departed. The OL also only has one regular starter returning (Will Noble). The Cougars also lost starting RG Colton Freeman due to injury in spring, and that is a major subtraction.
RB Duke Catalon returns to Houston and has all the potential in the world, but he has yet to play in the NCAA after spending a redshirted year at Texas. At WR the Cougars have Chance Allen, Steven Dunbar and Oklahoma State transfer Ra’Shaad Samples. Ward has the arm to make all three big-yardage WRs, and the Cougars will have few problems offensively even with the turnover at key positions. OC Major Applewhite has a lot to work with and there will be only a little fall off from last season’s great offensive successes.
Houston is an elite club when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Cougars forced 108 turnovers since the 2013 season and that leads all FBS schools. Last season the Cougars notched 35, which led the nation.
Steven Taylor has a lot to do with those great successes. He had 10 sacks last season and the Cougars tallied 36 as a team. Taylor also had 92 tackles. LBs Tyus Bowser and Matthew Adams will help the unit a lot given their experience, as well. The front is crazy athletic and gives OLs immense problems, and T B.J. Singleton is a 304 pound behemoth capable of destroying opposing OLs.
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T Jerard Carter and E Cameron Malveaux should also be in line for big seasons. The secondary lacks experience and will suffer from the loss of William Jackson III to the NFL, but CB Brandon Wilson will be a staple that should hold the secondary together to some degree until his teammates build some more experience.
K Ty Cummings is a good and experienced kicker, but punting duties are in the air and will be between backup QB Kyle Postma and freshman Blake Boyles. Wilson is the primary kick returner and he averaged 26.6 yards per return last season, while also returning two kicks for TDs. Samples will see some time returning punts, as well.
Houston opens the season with a big challenge in Oklahoma on Sept. 3. Following that, it will face lowly Lamar before beginning its AAC schedule with Cincinnati on Sept. 15.
Houston has nothing but momentum on its side after its great 2015 season. Ward is one of the best players in the NCAA and will carry Houston, even if some of the other pieces still need to fall into place. Last season seems to set Houston up to fall somewhat, but maybe that is a given following a season which saw just one loss. Even so, Herman has this team playing with immense confidence and there is enough talent on the offensive end of the ball to keep Houston blowing out the majority of its AAC foes.
Prediction: 11 wins
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