Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it so that means getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you get a grasp of what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 College Football Preview.
#69 – Houston Cougars 6-6 SU; 6-5 ATS
Fargo’s Take Houston has all of the pieces in place to finally make a run at the C-USA Championship. The problem is that the pieces have been there the last three seasons as well and the Cougars did not get the job done, coming away with two minor bowl invitations with both being losses. Until Houston can prove it can win the big games, it will be considered a contender and not the team to beat. Playing in the very tough C-USA West does not help matters. The Cougars have one of the best offenses around as they finished 19th in the country in total offense last season. The problem is that they came in at a disappointing 51st in scoring offense as they tallied more than 35 points only once. Defensively, Houston improved for a third straight season and with 10 starters back this year, more improvement could develop. The schedule is on their side but until the Cougars can close (2-3 in their last five games each of the last three years), there will always be doubts.
Returning Starters on Offense – 7 This offense has the potential to be the best in the country but it is just that, potential. The redzone offense was atrocious last season but if that can get better, Houston will be tough to beat. Led by senior quarterback Kevin Kolb and senior wideout Vincent Marshall, the Cougars have the two active leaders in the country at those positions. Running back Ryan Gilbert, who topped 1,000 yards last season, needs to be replaced and there is optimism that senior Jackie Battle can fill in nicely. Only two starters need to be replaced on the offensive line and even though the biggest starter weighs in at just 305, the smallish unit is perfect for the spread option attack that Houston utilizes. The Cougars averaged 34.5 ppg in 2003 and that is the average that they need to strive for this season.
Returning Starters on Defense – 10 The defense is overshadowed by the high octane offense and that should not be the case. Even though the numbers were not very good last season, 76th in total defense and 69th in scorings defense, they have improved in each of the last three years. How much they can improve in the fourth year could determine how far this team actually goes. The Cougars allowed 18 or fewer points four times but also gave up 31 or more points five times. Kansas put up 42 in the Fort Worth Bowl, not good considering that was the most points the Jayhawks scored all season long. There is a new defensive coordinator in the mix as Allen Weddell moves up from coaching the linebackers. There will be no changes to schemes and with 10 starters back, that is the right move. There is potential if the rushing defense can improve upon its 87th ranking from last year.
Schedule Houston caught every break by the schedule makers as this slate sets up to be the best in the Art Briles era. If the Cougars can regain a home edge where they have gone just 9-8 since Briles took over, major things can take place. Rice, Tulane, Grambling and Oklahoma St. are the first four games on the slate with the game against the Owls being the only roadie. Houston should be 4-0 before it heads to Miami (Florida) which looks to be the only sure loss on the schedule. The Cougars then host La-Lafayette before going to Southern Miss and then the breaks really come into play. Three straight home games against the three top teams in the conference, UTEP, Central Florida and Tulsa, will determine a lot. If Houston goes 1-2 in those games, another trip to Hawaii or Fort Worth is in its future.
You can bet on… There is so much optimism surrounding the Cougars that it could be too much and actually hurt the team. Houston has underachieved for the past few seasons and cannot afford to do so once again. The ball is in its hands and the Cougars have the opportunity to run the table. Surprisingly, Houston went under in six of its 11 lined games last season and is 13-9 under in the last two years. Posted totals will once again be very high based on the offense and if the defense can do the job it’s supposed to do, then we could see more of the same. Houston is 5-22 ATS in its first lined home game of the season and 3-12 ATS as double-digit favorites so Tulane could have some value in game two.