The Houston Cougars nearly had an undefeated season, but 13-1 and beating Penn State 30-14 in the TicketCity Bowl was a great way to finish last year. Days after Houston’s only loss, coach Kevin Sumlin departed for College Station and Tony Levine was promoted to interim coach, then led the Coogs to their bowl win. The school took the interim tag off and named Levine the new head coach. The team, playing its final season in Conference USA, will also be without quarterback Case Keenum, who now plays for the Houston Texans.
Offense (6 starters return)
As a true freshman, David Piland started eight games back in 2010 when Keenum went down with an injury. He then was redshirted last year, so Piland, now a sophomore, will take the offense back over. Piland knows the offense and has the easy feeling of relying on running back Charles Sims (junior), who led the team with 834 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. Four of the five linemen return, with only one being a senior, so that’s another positive.
The one question mark will be who leads the receivers? The team’s top three receivers have graduated, so look for Ronnie Williams, Dewayne Peace, Daniel Spencer and freshman Deontay Greenberry (who chose UH over Notre Dame) to get plenty of chances to make plays.
Defense (7 starters)
Most of the starters are back from a defense that made some strides last season and ranked 35th in scoring. Two of their best players have graduated, but names like Zeke Riser and Port Arthur native Radermon Scypion will have to carry the defensive line. Both outside linebackers return – Phillip Steward and Derrick Mathews – but the strength will be in the secondary with D.J. Hayden, who many project will play in the NFL, and Zach McMillian.
Both punter Richie Leone and kicker Matt Hogan are back for another season, but Houston needs to find a playmaker that can return kicks and give them good field position, or even break open a game.
No doubt, there won’t be a repeat of last season. But Houston has some players, and they seem to love playing for Levine. The schedule isn’t as tough, but they do play three tough conference road games.
Chad Cooper can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com.