No. 43 Houston
Like the three Houston head coaches before him, Major Applewhite inherits a darn good football team.
Though Tom Herman's departure will take some of the national attention away, the Cougars still have the best defensive lineman in college football, a talented transfer quarterback and experienced secondary.
2016 Record: 9-4 (5-3, AAC)
A 5-0 start — including a convincing win over Oklahoma in the season opener in which they looked like one of the best teams in America — generated significant playoff buzz.
Then came a shocking defeat at Navy and three more losses in their final seven games, among them a home loss to lowly Tulane, which was the one conference win for the Green Wave. Houston did, however, demolish soon-to-be Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville in November and finished with nine victories, giving them their highest two-year win total (22) in program history.
Head Coach: Major Applewhite (1st year)
Tom Herman could have left Houston after going 13-1 in 2015, his first season. He waited a year, started 5-0, beat Louisville and got his dream job at Texas.
After flirting with Lane Kiffin and other external candidates, they hired offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, a 38-year-old first-time head coach who, ironically, was hired by Herman from his assistant post at Texas, Applewhite's alma mater.
"We poured a lot of energy into that program together the past two years and Major will do a terrific job continuing to build on that," Herman said in December. "His goal has always been to have an opportunity to run his own program, he's ready for this next step and I'm just thrilled for Major, Julie and his family."
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Kyle Allen, RB Duke Catalon, WR Linell Bonner, WR Steve Dunbar, OT Braylon Jones, OT Josh Jones, C Will Noble
Houston scored at least 30 points in all but two games — including 40 or more during an early-season five-game stretch — and averaged 35.8 points per game on the season.
With quarterback Greg Ward gone, Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen takes over. There's a section below for additions but he is too big on an impact offensive player to not be featured here, so we're making an exception. A former five-star prospect and the top-rated passer in the 2014 class, he threw for 3,532 yards, 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 20 appearances over two seasons with the Aggies.
"It was tough," Allen said of sitting out 2016. "At the end I wouldn't change a thing. That last year I grew a lot as a person and as a player. It was a year I needed. I don't think I was mature enough my freshman and sophomore year. Last year gave me time to reflect and grow as a person, as a player, and become the man that I am right now"
He'll lean on upperclassmen at skill positions, including leading rusher Duke Catalon — an all-purpose back who had 44 receptions in 2016 — and senior receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar. Bonner, an all-conference honorable mention selection had a breakout junior campaign with 98 receptions.
All five starters return for an offensive line that was mediocre in 2016. Greg Ward was frequently scrambling for his life and their running backs rarely had big holes, averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. The unit is led by junior center Will Noble, and sophomore tackles Braylon Jones and Josh Jones showed promise as freshmen.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Ed Oliver, LB Matthew Adams, CB Jeremy Winchester, CB Javian Smith, CB Isaiah Johnson, S Garrett Davis, S Khalil Williams,
Let's pump the brakes on the Ed Oliver offseason love. He's not that good.
Kidding. He has the best combination of size, strength and quickness in college football and will be a top-10 NFL Draft pick in 2019. He is that good. As for how the All-American is adjusting to the new coaching staff, he has been repeatedly praised by the staff and said in March that there is "a lot less yelling a lot more coaching."
"The thing that encourages me – that helps me know he is on the right path – is his intensity in practice," Applewhite said during spring practice. "There's a natural tendency when you have success in anything to pull back a little bit. His intensity in practice is going forward. So I know he's going to improve.
Oliver, however, is not the only stud for co-coordinators Mark D'Onofrio and Clay Jennings.
Safety Garrett Davis and linebacker Matthew Adams are both all-conference players who helped Houston rank among the nation's best in many areas, including run defense (100 yards per game, fourth) and total yards (319 per game, 13th).
Corners Brandon Wilson (graduation) and Howard Wilson (NFL) are gone but they return corner Jeremy Winchester — a physical 6-foot, 190-pounder who ranked second on the team with eight passes defended — and safety Khalil Williams.
Also keep an eye on corners Javian Smith and Isaiah Johnson. The latter is a 6-foot-4 former receiver who had an interception in the spring game.
Notable Player Losses
QB Greg Ward Jr., WR Chance Allen, LB Steven Taylor, LB Tyus Bowser, CB Howard Wilson, CB Brandon Wilson
Forty-nine games, 11,313 total yards and 93 touchdowns later, Greg Ward Jr. is finally gone. The dual-threat playmaker left Houston after four terrific seasons.
“We were extremely hard on him in the progression,” Applewhite said of Ward last season. “Nothing was ever good enough. Greg responded to that. Good enough is not good enough for him.”
Also gone is receiver Chance Allen, who led them with six receiving touchdowns in 2016, and four key defensive players, most notably three NFL Draft picks in linebackers Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser and corner Howard Wilson. Wilson left after just three years, during one of which he took a medical redshirt.
Notable Player Additions
QB Kyle Allen, RB Patrick Carr, WR Jeremy Singleton, DE Bryan Jones, LB Arnaud Willis-Dalton
Joining Kyle Allen on offense are Colorado transfer Patrick Carr — a former three-star recruit from the Houston metro area who ran for 272 yards as a freshman with the Buffs in 2015 — and true freshman receiver Jeremy Singleton.
Defensively, it's all but two big-time freshmen in end Bryan Jones and linebacker Arnaud Willis-Dalton, the crown jewels of a small 17-man class. Jones is a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder from Baton Rouge who picked the Cougars over Texas, Texas A&M and others.
Their Oct. 19 home date with Memphis could be huge in determining the West Division champion.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||at UTSA|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Arizona|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Rice|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Texas Tech|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Temple|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Tulsa|
|Thursday, Oct. 19||vs. Memphis|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. East Carolina|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at South Florida|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Tulane|
|Friday, Nov. 24||vs. Navy|