Houston's First Game at TDECU Stadium Looms Large for Program

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

Cougars hope new stadium gives them an advantage.
Cougars hope new stadium gives them an advantage.Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

The University of Houston will open a brand new stadium on Friday, September 29, when it hosts the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners at 8 p.m.

TDECU Stadium was constructed at the site of the Cougars' former home, Robertson Stadium, over the course of the last two years and should provide the program a boost in 2014.

The Cougars played all their home games last year at various places around the nation's fourth largest city, Houston. 

In 2013, Houston played five games in NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, and two games at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo.

Houston has put together various marketing packages to help pack fans into the new stadium.

The Cougars have won five of their last six season openers.

Fans and students are affectionately dubbing TDECU Stadium "The Cage" because of its metal design.

Houston fans have high hopes for the 2014 season, the Cougars' second in the American Athletic Conference.

Last year, the Cougars rode the arm of true freshman quarterback John O'Korn and a stifling defense to a winning season and a bowl game appearance. Houston finished 8-5 after a 41-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Cougars were 5-3 in conference play.

All four regular-season losses were close by a total of 20 points. Houston fans hope improved depth and a real home field, TDECU Stadium, will help the Cougars turn close losses into wins.

O'Korn tossed 28 TDs last season.
O'Korn tossed 28 TDs last season.Butch Dill/Associated Press

Houston’s current depth chart includes 15 underclassmen and 29 upperclassmen, including just 12 seniors. It’s a change from 2013, when 23 underclassmen dotted the Cougars depth chart for the season opener. 

There's much to like about Houston in 2014.

Houston returns 19 starters from last season, including O'Korn, who led all true freshmen nationally last season with 28 passing touchdowns. O'Korn's top target, Deontay Greenberry, also returns. Greenberry is a talented receiver who averaged over 100 yards per game last year.

Speedsters Daniel Spencer, Markeith Ambles and Greg Ward should provide the sophomore quarterback even more ways to get the ball down the field in a hurry.

Greenberry was O'Korn's top target last year.
Greenberry was O'Korn's top target last year.eric gay/Associated Press

The Cougars' top two rushers from last season are back, too. Running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow are fire and ice, but they make for a nice backfield tandem. The shifty Jackson was the Cougars' fourth leading receiver last season, and the bruising Farrow averaged almost five yards per carry.

The Cougars led the nation last season in both turnover margin and turnovers gained. Houston has forced multiple turnovers in 20 of its last 21 games.

Ball-hawking junior safety Trevon Stewart will help lead the charge. Stewart led the nation in 2013 by collecting a combined 10 turnovers. Stewart totaled six fumble recoveries and four interceptions. His six fumble recoveries led the nation and also set a single-season school record.

Despite all the positives, Houston's high hopes will be dashed unless it can break in TDECU Stadium the right way. A win over UTSA on Friday will go far towards making the Cougars' new home part of a winning tradition.