2011 Record: (13-1, 8-0 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Tony Levine (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 TicketCity Bowl: beat Penn State 30-14
Out of Conference: 9/1 vs Texas State, 9/8 vs La Tech
Road Games: 9/29 vs Rice, 11/17 at Marshall
Toughest Games: 9/15 at UCLA, 10/18 at SMU, 11/3 at ECU, 11/10 vs Tulsa
Stat to Cheer: 292 plays of 10 yards or more in 2011 (1st in Nation)
Stat to Fear: Case Keenum's 5631 passing yards from 2011 are gone
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Phillip Steward (77 tackles, 6 INT), LB Derrick Matthews (106 tackles, 3 INT), CB D.J. Hayden (66 tackles, 2 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Charles Sims (821 yds, 9 TD, 7.46 ypc), OG Jacolby Ashworth, OT Rowdy Harper
There are some big question marks with this Houston team as they have to replace their all-everything QB Case Keenum. We all remember what happened when Keenum went down in 2010. They ended up going just 5-7. Not only do they have to replace their QB, but their head coach took the gig at Texas A&M. Oh yeah, they also have to replace their offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury as he followed Sumlin to College Station.
Houston has promoted Tony Levins (he was the interim coach after Sumlin left for A&M) and he hired his offensive coordinator (Mike Nesbitt) from Stephen F Austin and promoted their linebackers coach (Jamie Bryant) to defensive coordinator. Nesbitt is very familiar with the system that was ran at Houston and he has been hired to basically try and keep it in place and keep the ball rolling forward. There are a lot of moving pieces for this Houston team and it will be very interesting to see how they play out.
Besides Keenum, the Cougars also lose two of their top rushers (but still have leading rusher Charles Sims) and their five of their leading six receivers (a combined 345 receptions and 43 TDs). All of that production will be hard to replace for Houston. David Piland will be the man at QB. He got a test-run in 2010 when Keenum went down. It will be interesting to see how quickly the rest of the offensive roles (primarily at receiver) are filled around Piland.
One very positive thing that Houston has going for it is their schedule. They don't play Southern Miss or UCF out of the East and those should be the top two teams in that half of the division. The first-half of the schedule is also very favorable. The toughest games in the first six come when they host Louisiana Tech in week two and then travel to UCLA in week three. I don't see how Houston doesn't take a step back this year but I think they can still have a very good season with a very favorable schedule.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big East: Temple