Houston Cougars Odds to win the American Athletic Conference with Expert Betting Predictions
It's amazing how one thing can change a program so dramatically. After a 13-1 season in 2015, Houston opened last year by beating Oklahoma and then rolling through four other mismatched opponents. It seemed like the world was their oyster. At the same time the Big 12 was seriously pondering expansion, and it seemed all but certain that the Cougars would be making the move. Ultimately, though, the teams in that conference were concerned more about how including Houston would make it harder for them to recruit than they were about making the Big 12 as good as they possibly could, so they rejected Houston and the option of expansion for now. If Houston had gotten a spot in the Big 12 their already strong recruiting would have been even better, and head coach Tom Herman would have had no reason to move. They didn't, though, so Herman is gone, the fact he clearly had one foot out the door had a negative impact on the second half of last season, and now the team is hoping that they can stay on track with Major Applewhite.
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2016 in a Nutshell
That win against Oklahoma in the opener was one of the most enjoyable games I watched all year. They were 5-0 a month later and ranked No. 6 when the wheels wobbled then fell right off. They lost at Navy in a game that was bad but at least a little bit defensible - Navy is a team that is tough to play against and which has gotten up for top opponents in the past. They beat Tulsa but then lost a game at SMU that I can't even pretend to defend. The ugly 22-point loss was a total debacle. They bounced back to beat UCF and Tulane, and then since their dream season was already long since ruined they figured they would ruin another one - they beat then-No. 3 Louisville by 26 points. It was as if they felt they had done enough, because they wound down the season with a bad loss at Memphis and a horrible no-show in the Las Vegas Bowl against San Diego State. Herman had already left by the time the bowl came around, and Applewhite lost his first game as boss. So in the end it was about as depressing as a 9-4 season can be - two massive wins and four very ugly losses that wasted massive amounts of potential.
Key Additions and Departures
Herman's departure is obviously significant. Applewhite was offensive coordinator, so Brian Johnson, the former Utah QB and OC who had most recently been QB coach at Mississippi State, takes over. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando went with Herman to Texas, so Mark D'Onofrio, who was DC for Al Golden at Miami and was out of football last year, takes over. Those Miami squads weren't exactly defensively dynamic, so hopefully the time off has had a positive impact. It's hard to be hugely optimistic about this staff in Year 1, though.
They have had to say goodbye to QB Greg Ward Jr., and his loss is as significant as any team in the nation has felt. He was that good and that important to this offense. Kyle Allen, the nation's top recruit in 2014 who did little of note in two years at Texas A&M, takes over attempting to fill those massive shoes. Allen, assuming he wins the QB battle, will have receivers to choose from. They return veterans, have a lot of young guys - most notably four star sophomore Courtney Lark - pushing from behind, and added Ellis Jefferson, who started 38 games at Arizona State, as a grad transfer. The running backs and offensive line were awful last year, in large part because they couldn't settle on their starters and were trying something new each time out. They return big pieces of both units and add a grad transfer to each, so hopefully Johnson can be more decisive in his approach and figure out something that actually works. If they can actually do that, and if Allen can move closer to his potential - Applewhite was great with Ward, and Johnson worked with Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, so that is certainly a possibility - then this offense could even be better than last year because their horrible run game hurt them so badly.
The defense last year was really good, which isn't that hard when you have a guy like Ed Oliver up front. He's so good that BetOnline has him the only defensive player listed among 26 Heisman hopefuls with odds. He's at +6600. Oliver is a generational guy who has more than lived up to the hype - and he's only a sophomore. Oliver is joined by a front seven that has kept a lot of players, has young talent from that great recruiting class that Oliver was a part of, and which just added two grad transfers up front. The backfield is mostly intact - more at corner than safety - and has plenty of talent to work with. They'll be just fine, and thanks to Oliver could again be very good.
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis
If the team is any good then this is a very solid schedule for them. They have only four games that stand out as challenges of one sort or another. They play at Arizona in Week 2 in a game that is tough but should be winnable. Then they play at Temple in Week 5 - a tough place to play. Hosting Memphis could be a challenge, though playing at home should help. And then they play at the Charlie Strong-led South Florida squad that is the strong favorite to win the AAC. If Houston can split those games, which seems reasonable, and then stay steady and focused in games against lesser opponents better than they did last year, then nine or 10 wins seems like a reasonable upside goal. On the other extreme, given the schedule, even if things go horribly it feels like bowl eligibility should happen with this roster.
2017-18 Houston Cougars Betting Odds and Trends
BetOnline does not have Houston listed as one of the 36 teams in national title futures - yet another sign of how things have changed with Herman gone. They are the second choice to win the AAC at +600 but miles behind South Florida at -155. The Bulls are better, but in relative terms I would suggest there is value in the Cougars.
As it was with the scoreboard, it was a tale of two seasons last year for bettors. They were a strong 4-1 ATS in their opening five games but then just 1-7 ATS in their final eight. The strong defense and lousy run game combined to make them an attractive totals team - they went "under" the total in eight of 13 games.
2017-18 Houston Cougars Predictions and College Football Picks
I don't much like the coaching staff, but they have the talent to make the best of that. I think that 10 wins is a reasonable goal - aggressive, but attainable. They will be a much better team to bet on than they were in the second half last year, though not likely among the nation's betting stars.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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