It's apparent that there's a new atmosphere in Houston.
University of Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin is quickly becoming a well-known figure on campus with the increasing expectations of the Cougar football program. After assembling a solid 8-5 record in his inaugural season with the Cougars, it is widely expected that UH will be in the top 25 when the official preseason poll is released within the next few weeks.
Coach Sumlin knows that now is the opportunity to capitalize on the youth movement that UH has put together, coming off a very solid recruiting class to add to the assets that the team has at it's skill positions with junior quarterback Case Keenum, sophomore tailback Bryce Beall and sophomore receiver Tyron Carrier.
Sumlin talked about his talented offense in the Conference USA Football Media Day.
On star quarterback Case Keenum—"He's a leader, a great guy off the field and a great quarterback. If he can put up those types of numbers (from last year) again this year, I think he's a guy that needs to be in the Heisman conversation." Of course, Sumlin is referencing to the 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns that Keenum threw for last year while maintaining a 159.91 quarterback rating on his way to being named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year.
On runningback Bryce Beall—"Bryce Beall led us in rushing last year as a true freshman with around 1,200 or 1,300 yards and he'd probably have more if I was smart enough to start him the first three games." Sumlin said with a laugh.
On receiver Tyron Carrier—"Tyron had a tremendous season for us last year with over 1,000 yards and he's a tremendous kick returner; he's really developed. He is an Olympic qualifier in track with tremendous speed and we look for him to get better."
Coach Sumlin also talked about the challenges that he feels the offense faces coming into the season.
"I think our challenge will be how our front comes together; how our offensive line comes together just because we've lost a couple of guys, Sebastian Vollmer went in the second round this year (to the New England Patriots) so we've got to replace some offensive linemen and as our O-line comes along that will really dictate our success on offense."
Sumlin spoke with confidence about his young team and their potential to play at a high level on both sides of the ball. He made sure to address the issues with his front four on defense.
"On our defensive front, we're really replacing four starters up front but nobody plays just four guys. We had a bunch of guys that rotated in there. Our strength (on defense) will be our linebackers. Matt Nicholson will be back for his senior year, Marcus McGraw, who led us in tackles as a true freshman last year, will be back for his sophomore year and C.J. Cavness will be back as well, so our three linebackers will be our strength. We've got to replace our two safeties in the back end; we have some experience at corner but I think our defense will improve. We have some guys in our new system, younger (faster) guys with a little bit more energy, but I think our leadership will come from our linebackers and they have great support."
The impression that one can take from Coach Sumlin's thoughts are that the defense will be young, full of energy and ready to get after the quarterback but they will have to be careful due to a lack-of-experience, especially in their secondary.
Tune in with me next week as I dive into the offensive and defensive personnel for the Cougars and wrap it up with my 2009-2010 season predictions.