SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Houston Cougars

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Art Briles (1st year)
2002 record: 5-7
C-USA finish: 8th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 170.3 ypg
(2nd in C-USA, 44th in nation)
Pass: 222.5 ypg (4th, 56th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 134.1 ypg (3rd, 41st)
Pass: 269.3 ypg (10th, 108th)
Projected Starters
Offense (4 returning starters in bold)
SL  Harrison Arceneaux  Sr. 
WR  86  Mark Hopkins  Jr. 
WR   8   Brandon Middleton   Jr.  
LT  89  Matt Mattox  Sr. 
LG   71   Roy Swan   So.  
C   76   Rex Hadnot   Sr., 
RG  62  Brandon Evans  Sr. 
RT  70  David Douglas  So. 
TE  17  Jon Clark  Sr. 
QB   16   Nick Eddy   Sr.  
RB  Anthony Evans  So. 
Defense (6)
DE   94   Matthew Bentley   So.  
DT   62   Kade Lane   So.  
DT  79  Gerard Richard  So. 
DE   13   Farouk Adelekan   Sr.  
SLB  44  Lance Everson  Jr. 
MLB   33   Damien West   Sr.  
BLB  45  Bryant Brown  So. 
CB  Roland Cola  Sr. 
CB   1   Delenell Reid   Sr.  
SS   29   Jermain Woodard   Sr.  
FS  21  Levi Gaston  Jr. 
Special Teams
Dustin Bell  Jr. 
43  Jimmy McClary  Sr. 
KR  Brandon Middleton  Sr. 
PR  Chad McCullar  So. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Rice 
Sept. 6  at Michigan 
Sept. 13  at Louisiana-Lafayette 
Sept. 20  Mississippi State 
Oct. 1  at East Carolina 
Oct. 11  at Tulane 
Oct. 18  Memphis 
Oct. 25  TCU 
Nov. 8  Southern Miss 
Nov. 15  at Army 
Nov. 22  at Louisville 
Nov. 29  UAB 
Houston, which has enjoyed just two winning seasons since 1990, now turns to Art Briles, the first former Cougar to direct the football program.

It's not likely, however, that Houston will match the 5-7 record of Dana Dimel's third and final year as head coach. The new staff must replace the Cougars' top two players -- first-team All-Conference USA selections Joffrey Reynolds, the leading C-USA rusher, and safety Hanik Milligan -- while working in several new faces. There is an infusion of quality young talent, though, thanks to some solid recruiting during the Dimel era.

The non-conference schedule will pose some problems. Former Southwest Conference foe Texas is gone, but the Cougars have dates with Michigan and Mississippi State, along with Louisiana-Lafayette and cross-town rival Rice.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Houston isn't entirely sure who will be running its offense -- though senior Nick Eddy emerged from spring practice atop the depth chart -- but the offense being run will be new. Briles and his staff installed a multiple offense that features numerous formations and personnel groupings.

Eddy, who started the final eight games last year, has an advantage going since he ended the spring at No. 1. Sophomore Barrick Nealy, the starter for the first four games until being sidelined by a torn ACL, sat out during the spring but is expected to be ready to compete with Eddy in the fall.

After two seasons in the shadow of Reynolds, Anthony Evans receives the chance to display the talent that made him one of the most widely recruited running backs in Texas three years ago. Evans' challenge is to try to replace Reynolds and his Conference USA single-season record 1,545 yards.

Brandon Middleton is a proven big-play receiver who has averaged 19.8 yards on his 82 receptions in his career. Most of the other wideouts are newcomers, but sophomores Vincent Marshall and Chad McCullar and redshirt freshmen Leonard Gibson and Josh Carethers have the speed to stretch defenses.

An offensive line that lost three starters appears solid in the middle with center Rex Hadnot and guards Brandon Evans and Roy Swan. The bad news is the loss of three-year starter Al James, an outstanding center who tore up a knee last year and isn't expected to be ready to play this season.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Houston has abandoned the 4-2-5 for the more conventional 4-3 defensive front. New defensive coordinator Ron Harris will move the front four into a variety of looks, in an effort to confuse the offensive line.

Matthew Bentley and Kade Lane started side-by-side at defensive tackle as true freshmen. Bentley, however, will slide over to end this fall. The staff is expecting a big contribution from end Farouk Adelekan, who led the team with nine sacks despite starting just three late-season games.

Lance Everson, Damien West and Bryant Brown, who returns from a year out of school, offer a nice combination of quickness and physicality at linebacker.

Milligan recorded 405 tackles at safety in three seasons and is unlikely to be adequately replaced. Will Gulley, an athletic sophomore, and Oklahoma transfer Brian Hodges will try.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Kicker Dustin Bell and punter Jimmy McClary return to what should be solid special teams. Bell made his first seven field goals of the season and ended 10-of-10 from 42 yards and in, and 12-of-14 overall. He consistently kicked off to the goal line or end zone. After some inconsistency, McClary ended with a 38.9 average. Both performed well in the spring.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Briles and his assistants will deserve instant raises if the Cougars manage to break even this season -- or somehow win more than they lose. There is some decent talent on hand, but the first year of the Briles era might consist of one step back before the program takes a few steps forward. There are simply too many questions and not enough answers to expect this Cougar team to finish in the upper half of the C-USA.

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