The Houston Cougars have been coached by both Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, and both guys have used the program as a springboard to bigger places. In his first season in town, Tom Herman delivered notice that he intends to outdo both of those guys. Last season the former Ohio State assistant went 12-1 in the regular season to claim the first conference title for the team in a decade and then they beat up on Florida State in their bowl game to finish the season ranked eighth overall. It couldn't really have gone better for him.
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Now he has to prove that it wasn't a fluke and that he is really building a contender here. With the strong push from Big 12 member schools to have Houston added to that conference, perhaps Herman's bigger job could actually be just staying at Houston for the long term.
Success won't be handed to Herman on a silver platter this season, though, He faces a number of key changes, and the team will have a huge target on their backs - something that certainly wasn't the case coming out of the Tony Levine era. He's also dealing with players who have spent the offseason hearing all about how good they are - something that hasn't happened for a University of Houston team since Phi Slama Jama. That kind of attention can motivate and sharpen a team, or it can inflate their egos to the point they don't fit in their helmets anymore. Herman showed what kind of potential he has last year. Now he has to show how good of a coach he really is.
Key Additions and Departures
The good news on offense is that Greg Ward Jr., coming off a season in which he and Deshaun Watson were the only two QBs to pass for at least 2,000 yards and run for at least 1,000, is back for another year and could potentially take a step forward. People are taking notice, too - at BetOnline he's at +4000 to win the Heisman, so while he's not among the favorites he's a solid Top 20 contender at this point. Unfortunately, Ward will have to work with several different faces this year. Excellent running back Kenneth Farrow is gone, and the team will have to hope that Texas transfer Duke Catalon and a couple of freshman can fill the gap. The team also lost top receiver Demarcus Ayers, who made the odd decision to leave early for the draft and only went in the seventh round. Again, they will rely on a transfer and some freshman to fill the gap. The offensive line sees three changes, too. A juco transfer will be starting at left tackle, while right tackle and a position in the middle of the line are going to be widely contested. The offense was a strength last year, but coordinator Major Applewhite will have to work very hard to have this group ready for their opener against Oklahoma.
Defensively, the story is all about the secondary. There are serious concerns about the secondary, where they lost three very good defensive backs, headlined by corner William Jackson III, who was selected by the Texans in the first round. That's a whole lot for a team to replace at once, and you can be sure that Baker Mayfield will be picking on the secondary early and often in that opener.
The news is better elsewhere, though. The defensive line retains the important pieces and adds blue chip recruit Ed Oliver, who was Top 10 in the country and shocked many by picking Houston and sticking with them. The linebackers are in decent shape despite losing leading tackler Elandon Roberts in the draft, and that group should be solid as well. It's a defense that has plenty of talent, but there is a lot of work to be done. Fortunately, the team was able to ward off the advances of Wisconsin, who was looking to replace DC Dave Aranda, who bolted to LSU, and keep coordinator Todd Orlando with the team. That really helps.
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis
There is no easing into things for the Cougars . They open with not only their toughest game of the season but also the biggest game the program has played in many, many years as they face Oklahoma in a neutral-site challenge. The Sooners are heavily favored to win the Big 12, so a Houston win here would be a major statement to everyone that this team is for real. It would also put the possibility of an unbeaten season on the table - and all the pressure that goes with that.
There are some tough games along the way - at Cincinnati and at home against Louisville could both be challenging. Nothing is nearly as tough as the test to start, though. If they win that game and can avoid a letdown afterwards then the sky is the limit. Heck, wins over Oklahoma and Louisville and an unbeaten season, along with some good breaks, could even get them into the playoff discussion. Even if they lose it, though, they are still well positioned to roll through conference play. There are many teams that play harder schedules than this one, and aside from that opener, few major contenders play an easier schedule.
2016-17 Houston Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Houston at +6600 to win the national title, which has them tied with several teams as the 23rd overall choice. They are even money to win the AAC, well ahead of second choice South Florida at +350. BetOnline has set the season win total at 9, with the "over" heavily favored at -160.
Houston was a pleasure to watch last year and quite strong to bet on as well - they were 9-5 ATS. They were less useful on the total, though - they went over six times, "under" seven and pushed once.
2016-17 Houston Predictions and College Football Picks
There is a whole lot to like here. If they didn't have so much change to deal with then I would give them a fighting chance against the Sooners. It's too much to ask too soon, though. They will lose that game but could quite possibly not lose again. A conference title is all but assumed, and they could round into strong form in time for another big bowl win.
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