The Houston Cougars lost more than just a bowl game in 2007—they lost a coaching staff and some of their best offensive skill players.
New head coach Kevin Sumlin, who helped coordinate a strong Oklahoma offense last season, is taking over a team that had one of the top offenses in the country a year ago.
Coach: Kevin Sumlin (first year as head coach)
Key Losses: RB Anthony Alridge, WR Donnie Avery, WR Jeron Harvey, WR Perry McDaniel, LB Trent Allen, LB Brendan Pahulu, S Rocky Schwartz
Aug. 30 Southern
Sep. 6 @ Oklahoma State
Sep. 13 Air Force
Sep. 20 @ Colorado State
Sep. 27 @ East Carolina
Oct. 9 UAB
Oct. 18 @ SMU
Oct. 28 @ Marshall
Nov. 8 Tulane
Nov. 15 Tulsa
Nov. 22 UTEP
Nov. 29 @ Rice
Key Game: Nov. 15 vs. Tulsa
Last year a 56-7 blowout loss at Tulsa cost the Cougars a shot at back-to-back conference championships. Once again the winner of this matchup should win the West Division. It’s clearly a battle of the best in the west, and this time there is a little bit of a revenge factor.
Sumlin will be without some key performers from an offense that finished the season ranked fourth nationally in total offense with 502 yards a game. The good news is that they do return a starter at the most important position on the field.
As a redshirt freshman, Case Keenum performed well in replacing Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Though his numbers were not eye-popping—2,259 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions—Keenum was efficient with a 68.5 completion percentage and a very respectable 147.61 quarterback rating.
Keenum also finished third on the team in rushing with 412 yards and nine touchdowns.
The sophomore will have to find some new weapons after losing most of his favorite targets from a year ago, including Donnie Avery, who was the first receiver taken in April’s NFL Draft. TE Mark Hafner does return, and he will play a key role after catching 40 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns in ‘07.
None of the likely starting receivers reached double digits in catches last year. L.J. Castile put up the most numbers with seven catches, 106 yards, and one touchdown. Sumlin will also look for production from junior Chris Gilbert, sophomore Chaz Rodriguez, and junior Tim Monroe.
Another big hole will need to be filled at the running back position. The Cougars finished the season ranked 10th nationally in rushing with 224 yards a game, but they will have to find a replacement for Anthony Alridge, who rushed for 1,597 yards.
The top candidate for the job is Terrance Ganaway, who was second on the team in rushing a year ago with 550 yards and six touchdowns. If Ganaway is unable to get the job done, Sumlin will give the ball to another sophomore, Andre Kohn.
The strength of the offense will be on the line, where the Cougars return four starters. The line will be anchored by left tackle SirVincent Rogers, who may also have the best name in college football. The right side will be solid as well, with the return of senior Michael Bloesch at right guard.
The defense was good in ‘07, but it should be even better in ‘08. A strong line will be led by end Phillip Hunt, who led the league in sacks last season with 10.5 and should also be a first-team all-conference pick for the second straight year. Ell Ash and Tate Stewart also return at the tackle spots.
Senior Cody Lubojasky is the only returning starting linebacker. Juniors Matt Nicholson and Tyrell Graham will step into starting spots on both sides of Lubojasky.
All four starters return in the secondary, led by senior safety Kenneth Fontenette. With the return of cornerbacks Brandon Brinkley and Quinte Williams, along with senior Ernest Miller at the other safety spot, Houston could repeat as the top passing defense in the conference.
A strong pass defense will be a big help in a conference that thrives on passing. If the Cougars are able to find some playmakers at receiver and running back, they should be able to battle Tulsa for a trip to the C-USA championship game. Not having to face UCF in the regular season will help their chances.