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2018 Houston Cougars Season Preview

Schedule, personnel, and more analysis for the 2018 season.

East Carolina v Houston Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Year 1 under Major Applewhite wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t a disaster. While it may not have gone as well as he might have thought, Applewhite didn’t stand idle. He made some headlines by bringing in a new offensive coordinator and multiple graduate transfers. He also received a commitment from a four star recruit recently. Houston is looking to move on from 2017, and have big goals for this year. A conference championship run isn’t out of the question, and this team has the talent to compete. Let’s take a look at what this team has to offer and what might become of this season.

Offense

Top Players to watch: QB D’Eriq King, RB Terence Williams, WR Courtney Lark, OT Joshua Jones, C Will Noble

King returns as the leading passer and receiver for the Cougars, which means that new targets need to emerge. King and Lark displayed some chemistry late in the season, which could lead to a breakout year in 2018. The run game needs to improve, and adding Williams should help immensely. The offensive line is experienced, and gives new coordinator Kendal Briles a base to work with.

Defense

Top Players to watch: DT Ed Oliver, DE Isaiah Chambers, CB Isaiah Johnson, S Deontay Anderson, S Garrett Davis

Outside of Ed Oliver and Garrett Davis, the defense was fairly pedestrian everywhere else. Adding transfers like Chambers, Anderson, Darrion Owens, and Nick Watkins helped bring in talent to this group. Other players like Payton Turner, Jerard Carter, Zach Vaughn, Emeke Egbule, and Alexander Myres add depth. This unit won’t be short on talent, so it all comes to their performance on the field.

Special Teams

Kicker Caden Novikoff was the surprise last year in this group. JUCO transfer Dalton Witherspoon was expected to win the job, but it was Novikoff who took control. He was 43-for-43 on extra points, and 12-for-15 on field goals. Punter Dane Roy improved his average from 2016 to 2017, jumping from 40.6 yards per punt to 41.8. His leg is a weapon, but hopefully it won’t have to be used as much this season. In the return game, replacements need to be found for kick returner John Leday and punt returner Brandon McDowell.

Five things that went well in 2017

  • Ed Oliver.
  • Putting D’Eriq King at quarterback.
  • Picking up the tempo offensively.
  • Beating Arizona on the road.
  • Kicking and punting.

Five things that will lead to success in 2018

  • Producing an explosive running game.
  • New threats downfield to replace Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar.
  • The secondary needs to be more prepared for the challenges they will face. Teams are going to throw more because of Oliver.
  • The talent that was brought in needs to produce.
  • Avoiding letdown games (ex. Tulsa and Tulane in 2017).

Schedule

9/1/18 @ Rice

9/8/18 Arizona

9/15/18 @Texas Tech

9/22/18 Texas Southern

10/4/18 Tulsa

10/13/18 @ ECU

10/20/18 @ Navy

10/27/18 USF

11/3/18 @ SMU

11/10/18 Temple

11/15/18 Tulane

11/23/18 @ Memphis

Analysis & Predictions

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona
Tate and the Wildcats should be much better than last year.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Conference Play

It’s probably unrealistic to expect an undefeated season after a disappointing 7-5 campaign. Arizona will be more difficult than last year with the emergence of Khalil Tate as a potential Heisman candidate. Hosting the Wildcats and former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin will add a new dimension to the game this year. Texas Tech will be tough once again this season, but Houston appears to be better equipped to face the Red Raiders. Rice and Texas Southern shouldn’t be issues.

Conference Play

Houston gets a chance to redeem themselves against the teams thy lost to last year. It starts with Tulsa in their first game, and they finish the season with Tulane and at Memphis. Tulsa and Tulane should be better than last year, and Memphis is loaded with talent again. Traveling to Memphis won’t make life easier. Trips to Navy and SMU could be problematic, but Houston is the more talented team. The Cougars host USF and Temple, which also could be tough tests. ECU better be a win on October 13th.

Prediction

It’s tough to say. We may not find out much in the first game against Rice, but we will find out a lot when Arizona comes to town. If Houston can find a way to win that game and the next week in Lubbock, this team will be dangerous. Can Houston win every game? Yes, but it’s tough to make that jump right now.Arizona and Texas Tech will be big challenges, and there are also multiple tough games in the second half of the season as well.

My pick: Houston goes 10-2