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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
American Athletic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Tony Levine, 6-7 (1 full year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Travis Bush, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Gibbs
You can’t pin last year’s 5–7 mark on the offense. Houston averaged a robust 32.4 points and 479.6 yards per game in 2012 and returns the vast majority of the players who produced those numbers. Still, head coach Tony Levine is expecting new co-coordinator Doug Meacham to show more “creativity” with the attack, even if the scheme doesn’t change too much.
Junior David Piland is back at quarterback after throwing for 2,944 yards last year. But he must become more accurate (57.1 percent) and cut back on the 12 interceptions he threw in 2012. He has 11 of UH’s top targets back, but there are no proven gamebreakers among them. Sophomore Deontay Greenberry (47) and junior Daniel Spencer (41) lead the way. Look out for junior college newcomer Markeith Ambles, a former USC top recruit who averaged 17.2 yards per reception at Arizona Western College.
The 2012 ground game was productive, as senior Charles Sims led the way by gaining 851 yards and scoring 14 total touchdowns in just nine games. However, Sims transferred in late May, leaving a void in the backfield. Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow are set to replace Sims as Houston's No. 1 back.
The key to that part of the attack is an offensive line that returns four starters and will be fortified by the arrival of junior college tackle Damien Parris. Junior tackle Rowdy Harper and senior guard Ty Cloud comprise a strong, experienced left side of the line.
The Cougars need to get much better on this side of the ball, and Levine is betting new coordinator David Gibbs can simplify the scheme and make UH more productive than it was last year, when opponents averaged 36.0 points and 483.0 yards per game.
The heart of the D will be junior Derrick Mathews, who moves from the weak-side linebacking spot to the middle, even though he weighs only 207 pounds. Mathews had 17 tackles for a loss among his 126 stops last year and has star potential. With two starting linebackers gone, the Cougars need some people to step up. Expect senior Austin Wilson and LSU transfer Trevon Randle to see plenty of time.
Houston will stay with a four-man front under Gibbs. Though the starters aren’t household names, Levine believes their quickness will make a difference. Junior Joey Mbu and sophomore Tomme Mark are the top tackles, with sophomore Eric Eiland and junior Eric Braswell on the outside.
There is some talent in the secondary, beginning with sophomore safety Trevon Stewart, whose 126 tackles tied Mathews for second-most on the team. Senior corners Thomas Bates and Zach McMillian (five interceptions) are solid. Expect junior college newcomer Turon Walker to provide depth on the outside, while fellow junior college import Kent London is a big safety prospect.
Kicker Matt Hogan is gone, but senior Richie Leone averaged 45.5 yards per punt, boomed 25 kickoffs into the end zone and has a big leg that could earn him the kicking job. If not, touted true freshman Ty Cummings could take it. There is experience in the return game, but the Cougars need a boost in production.
There are many reasons for optimism around the Cougar program. Houston moves into the American Athletic Conference, where as Levine says, “the winner goes to a BCS bowl.” The school is building an on-campus, 45,000-seat stadium that will open in 2014, and the last two recruiting classes have brought in plenty of talent.
But if the Cougars want to compete in the American — or anywhere else, for that matter — they must tighten up the defense. Houston should be able to score plenty of points, thanks to its surfeit of skill performers, although Piland needs to be more accurate. The Cougars’ ultimate success depends on whether or not they can stop people.