Photo via John Glaser, TexasHSFootball.com
The Houston Cougars had one of the most turbulent 9-4 seasons in recent memory.
The Cougars finished third in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference and ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl against the San Diego State Aztecs. The Cougars lost the 34-10 and Greg Ward Jr. threw four interceptions in the game. The anticlimactic ending was a culmination of heartbreaks on and off the football field.
The first, and maybe the biggest disappointment, was not being accepted into the Big 12 Conference. The school built an impressive an stadium and continually renovated the campus. The Cougars were also riding the momentum of a 13-1 season in 2015, which concluded with a 38-24 win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
In 2016, they continued to beat the elite schools in college football with wins over the Oklahoma and Louisville with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
The Cougars were also prone to playing down to their competition in losses to the Memphis Tigers, the Navy Midshipmen and especially a 38-16 blowout loss on the road to the SMU Mustangs. Many rumors persisted that their head coach Tom Herman was going to coach the Texas Longhorns or the LSU Tigers. The rumors about Herman got louder, especially after the Cougars’ win over Louisville.
The Cougars were above average on both sides of the ball and in spite of their record, they still finished in the top 30 in both points scored and points allowed teams.
The major transition will be on offense.
One weakness was the Cougars’ offensive line. It is rare for teams to overcome a shaky offensive line and still be one of the best offenses in the game, unless it has great skill players in the game like the Cougars did with Ward Jr., Duke Catalon, Linell Bonner, Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar. They were to able to mask an offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback and struggled even more to run the football. The Cougars averaged 43 rushing attempts per game, but produced just 147 rushing yards per game, which ranked 99th in division one. They averaged 3.4 rushing yards per attempt, which was 117th. According to the Cougars’ new signing class, they have added just one offensive lineman: Dennis Bardwell (Hargrave). The offense will have the same group of linemen, but it won’t have Ward Jr., who will graduate.
Otherwise, the Cougars’ senior talent will depend on Kyle Postma and Bonner, should they return. The Cougars brought in another quarterback from Tyler in Bryson Smith. They hope he provides the same kind of skills that Ward Jr. possessed. Assuming Postma returns, he should be the favorite to be the starter. He’s been effective when he’s been given the opportunity.
Promoting Major Applewhite to head coach was the sensible move to could make. He’s been vital to the success of the last two years and he has first hand knowledge of what Tom Herman established. The players should be able to trust Applewhite because he stayed when others left. He has experience as the offensive coordinator and he should continue to assist the offense, in addition to special teams. That has worked out well for Nick Saban, although he works with the defense and the special teams.
The key to the Cougars’ success is the development of the sophomores and freshmen that will become juniors and sophomores respectively. Fortunately, two of them are Catalon and defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who will be a sophomore.
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