Houston turned to a familiar name in the offseason, hiring Dana Holgorsen to a five-year contract worth $20 million — the richest deal ever for a non-power conference school. While the move was considered a coup by many since Holgorsen left a Power 5 job (West Virginia) to come to the American Athletic Conference that doesn't mean the pressure isn't on to produce results.
Previewing Houston's Offense for 2019
Holgorsen's calling card at every stop has been offense, and that again should be the case as Houston is returning most of its skill players from a unit that was among the top 10 nationally in scoring (43.9 ppg) and total offense (512.5 ypg). Holgorsen plans to handle the play calling, with an attack that is expected to include everything from variations of the Air Raid to ground-and-pound.
A breakout season ended prematurely for quarterback D'Eriq King, who missed the final two-plus games with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Before the injury, King was responsible for 50 touchdowns, the most in FBS, and had thrown for nearly 3,000 yards while rushing for 674. He was cleared in the spring and says his knee feels "100 percent."
The top three targets in the passing game return, led by Marquez Stevenson, who bounced back from two injury-plagued years for a career-high 75 catches for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns. With Stevenson, Keith Corbin and Courtney Lark, the Cougars possess the type of speed that should flourish in Holgorsen’s fast-paced system.
Kyle Porter, a transfer from Texas, is expected to challenge for the No. 1 running back duties with Patrick Carr (868 yards last season).
The departure of Will Noble, a four-year starter at center, is a concern. Braylon Jones will get first crack to replace him after 30 career starts at guard.
Previewing Houston's Defense for 2019
Ravaged by injuries a year ago, Houston is coming off one of the worst statistical seasons in school history, setting program records for points allowed (483), total yards (6,454) and rushing touchdowns (42). Holgorsen hired Joe Cauthen, known for his attacking style at Arkansas State, as the defensive coordinator. Houston will switch from a three-man to four-man front to stop the run and get some inside pressure. Gone are Ed Oliver, a consensus All-American at defensive tackle, and top tacklers Austin Robinson and Roman Brown at linebacker.
Isaiah Chambers got off to a hot start with 4.5 sacks before missing the final eight games with a knee injury. He'll be joined by veterans Payton Turner, David Anenih, Leroy Godfrey and Aymiel Fleming and a half-dozen junior college transfers up front.
The linebacking corps will have three new starters, and there is concern at cornerback with graduation and injuries taking a toll. Damarion Williams, a junior college All-American, will provide immediate help at corner. Safety is a strength with Gleson Sprewell and Deontay Anderson.
Previewing Houston's Specialists for 2019
Both specialists return in punter Dane Roy (42.1-yard average) and placekicker Dalton Witherspoon, who was 7-of-9 on field goals and made all 72 extra points.
How many points the Cougars score may not matter if they cannot solve their defensive issues. Houston learned how difficult things could be when King went down with an injury and spent the offseason emphasizing ways for him to protect himself. A seventh straight bowl appearance is likely, but can Houston contend in the AAC West Division? Some answers could come early thanks to a grueling nonconference schedule.
National Ranking: 53
(Top photo courtesy of Houston Athletics)