There is the perception that disaster will strike in Houston with the exit of Tom Herman. Many are forgetting that they still have a talented team. One that can win the AAC and still compete with Power 5 schools. Houston finally received the attention it deserved, and the Cougars were in the fast lane towards the 2016 College Football Playoff. What followed is well-documented, and a topic for another day.
Now, it’s time for them to reload. A new era has begun under Major Applewhite, and there is still plenty to get fans excited. Is Applewhite the same as Tom Herman? No, but Houston fans shouldn’t hold him to Herman’s standard.
This team still has plenty of talent to compete with the big boys, and the initial shock of last season is over. The Cougars have 15 commits so far, and should be adding to that number. Here are three needs the Cougars should try to address this year.
Concern: Ed Oliver is a beast. With 22.5 tackles for loss, the freshman made an instant impact in college football. Why is that a concern? Talent like that doesn’t stick around very long. Everyone has assumed Oliver will leave for the NFL once he’s eligible, and no one can blame him if he does. His production will leave a big hole at that position, and there isn’t much depth behind him. While there may not be a lot of opportunities to see the field with Oliver in the lineup, this position needs to be addressed quickly.
Outlook: While this doesn’t appear to be a high priority right now, there still is a chance this position gets filled this year. Three star Joshua Rogers (6’5”, 280 pounds) from Houston has a good chance of signing with the Cougars. Committed defensive end Joe Anderson has tremendous size (6’6”, 300) that could put him inside at tackle too. If this isn’t addressed this year, next year will put it at an extremely high priority.
Concern: This position wasn’t utilized much under Herman, but that could change under new OC Brian Johnson. FB/TE Tyler McCloskey, and the lack of returning production will allow for a wide open competition. The three returning seniors in Byron Simpson, Romello Brooker, and Alex Leslie produced just four catches for 31 yards last season.
Outlook: One recruit is already committed in Parker Eichenberger. At 6’4” and 225 pounds, he is a big target that could compete for playing time immediately. Houston should look to add some competition this year, but also can afford to wait until next year too.
Concern: With four seniors returning in 2017, there will be turnover heading into next season. Steven Taylor will be sorely missed this year, and it may be the one position where one player is missed the most. Outside Linebackers may also find their way inside, since there is some flexibility in the 3-4 scheme, but some true inside players will need to come to campus.
Outlook: Incoming recruit Derek Parish has some decent size (6’1”, 256 pounds) coming in, and the defensive staff may move players around like D’Juan Hines to play inside instead of outside. Even with the rotations, this will be an area of need going into next year, so it wouldn’t hurt to try and add another player or two to this class.
Last year’s recruiting class was special, and classes like that don’t come every year to G5 schools as Houston became the first G5 school to sign a five-star player.
Still, Applewhite’s first recruiting class is solid, and the Cougars return a lot of young players. 11 of their 15 top tacklers return, and could also be back in 2018, which bodes well for their head coach as he learns the ropes of the job.
Overall, Houston is in great shape, and there isn’t much to worry about. The head coach may have moved on, but talent is still coming to Houston. If the Cougars can be proactive and shop for these needs, there won’t be a need to panic in Applewhite’s tenure.