Skip to main content

Houston Football: 2022 Cougars Season Preview and Prediction

Nathaniel Dell, Houston Cougars Football

Nathaniel Dell and the Cougars are ranked No. 24 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2022 college football season

Houston took a significant step forward last season by winning 12 games and playing for the American Athletic Conference title. With quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Nathaniel Dell returning in 2022, coach Dana Holgorsen's squad will have a chance to replicate last year's success and also take a shot at unseating Cincinnati atop the AAC. The Cougars should have one of the conference's top offenses, and the defense brings back six starters from a unit that limited teams to 20.4 points a game last season. Non-conference games against UTSA, Kansas and Texas Tech are tough, but Houston won't have to play UCF or Cincinnati in the regular season. With a move to the Big 12 looming in '23, the Cougars have the right pieces to make their swan song in the AAC a memorable one.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Houston’s Offense for 2022

The loss of running back Alton McCaskill IV to an ACL injury late in spring practice is a significant blow. Houston, however, returns arguably the league’s top pass-catch combo in quarterback Clayton Tune and All-AAC wide receiver Nathaniel Dell.

Tune took a big step in Year 3 of head coach Dana Holgorsen’s system, passing for 3,546 yards and 30 TDs. Dell produced one of the best receiving seasons in school history with 90 catches, 1,329 yards and 12 TDs. Dell is a speedy, big-play threat who had six 100-yard games, including 152 yards against Cincinnati in the AAC title game. Houston hit the transfer portal for reinforcements, picking up Cody Jackson (Oklahoma), Samuel Brown (West Virginia), Joseph Manjack IV (USC) and Brice Johnson (Ole Miss). True freshman Matthew Golden turned heads in the spring.

Those additions will allow Houston to move Dell and KeSean Carter exclusively to the inside spots. Tight end Christian Trahan offers another reliable target.

Ta’Zhawn Henry, the team’s second-leading rusher with 524 yards and seven touchdowns, takes over as the feature back until McCaskill’s return and will be joined by USC transfer Brandon Campbell and Stacy Sneed.

Left tackle Patrick Paul and right guard Tank Jenkins are the only returners up front. Jack Freeman and true freshman Demetrius Hunter solidified the center spot in the spring, and Houston added transfer right tackle Tyler Johnson (Texas) just before Easter.

Previewing Houston’s Defense for 2022

Houston has produced high NFL draft picks on the defensive line three of the last four years; the latest is Logan Hall, who follows in the steps of Ed Oliver (2019) and Payton Turner (2021). The defensive line is still an embarrassment of riches. “Sack Avenue,” as Houston’s D-line is called, posted 34.5 of the team’s 45 total sacks in 2021. D’Anthony Jones and Derek Parish combined for 12 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss. Nelson Ceaser could be one of the top defensive ends in the AAC.

Middle linebacker Donavan Mutin is the heart and soul of the defense, while the back end of the secondary is experienced with Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite making a combined 35 starts the last two seasons.

Replacing cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams is no easy task. Alex Hogan and Art Green came out of the spring as the starters. Moses Alexander, a top-rated juco signee, and Jayce Rogers will figure in the mix.

Previewing Houston’s Specialists for 2022

Laine Wilkins is back as punter, but Houston has to replace an All-America returner in Jones (nine career TDs) and kicker Dalton Witherspoon. Bubba Baxa and Kyle Ramsey are the candidates at kicker. Holgorsen says the return duties are wide open.

Final Analysis 

Houston took a giant step in its 12-win season, and the Cougars aren’t done. With no Cincinnati or UCF on the regular-season schedule and a manageable non-conference slate, they could challenge for the AAC title and New Year’s Six bowl in their final season before moving to the Big 12.

National Ranking: 24

Podcast: Top 25 Megacast! Breaking down Athlon Sports' Top 25 and Predictions for 2022