The Houston Cougars have one of the best chances among group of five teams to reach a BCS bowl or potentially more, thanks to established success in 2015 and an offense that is returning key players like quarterback Greg Ward Jr. as well as setting up for potential stars such as running back Duke Catalon.
However, UH's high-powered offense has faced a massive hurdle this offseason in rebuilding the offensive line. The Cougars lost both starting tackles, Alex Cooper and Carter Wall, who were seniors and key members of the 2015 offense.
And to add to those departures, center/guard Colton Freeman retired from football earlier this April. The redshirt sophomore had contributed heavily to the offensive line in 2015, but neck issues have continued to bother him into the 2016 offseason, and he has understandably dropped the game. Freeman will continue to work with the Cougars as a student assistant to the offensive line.
Three holes in the offensive line isn't the most devastating obstacle to overcome, but it has proven to be a challenge. While the Cougars do have depth at the offensive line (14 total linemen on roster), determining the depth chart and fitting in players will undoubtedly take a lot of time and practice this offseason.
Many had hoped that April 16's spring game would provide some answers, but it doesn't seem that way. Coach Tom Herman felt that the offensive line is on its way, but expected a little bit more from them in the spring game.
Herman's analysis is fair and accurate. They did face easier competition, but the lack of experience at some positions and the reshaping of the line makes every player and coach's part a bit more difficult.
The lack of Catalon and other running backs in the spring game does murk up the quality of performance. Blake Hirsch and Josh Burrell were fine, combining for a 3.5 average, but neither provided dynamic running in the spring game.
Herman name-dropped Noble and Eloph, and for good reason. Both interior linemen are just under a year removed from joining the Cougars as freshman, but their contributions to the 2015 team has set them up to take over in their sophomore years.
And while the two are the frontrunners for interior positions, there's no telling where the Cougars may go. The majority of their depth specializes in the interior, but it significantly drops off when it comes to the tackle positions. With two holes to fill, we may see one, possibly two position changes to see if anyone can perform on the outside.
Houston has talent on the offensive line, it's just not at every single position. Although that's not preferable, having that kind of depth allows for a patch-up job, and that may be the only thing Houston's offense needs to figure out before the 2016 season.