In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 56 Houston
After winning 19 of 20 games from the end of 2015 through the start of 2016, Houston is now 11-9 in their last 20 games. That stretch feels weird for a program who averaged 9.5 wins from 2013-16 and has four seasons with at least 10 wins since 2006.
The Cougars don't have as much high-end talent and depth as they did the last few years but they still have enough pieces to contend for the AAC West title, especially after adding several instant-impact transfers.
2017 Record: 7-5 (5-3, American)
From 10,000 feet, Houston seven-win season doesn't look great, especially after they won 19 games the previous two seasons. However, Hurricane Harvey forced the cancellation of one game and altered the dates of two others, and four of their five losses came by 16 total points.
Let's be careful to avoid making excuses for a team that underachieved but a lot of 2017 was about more than football for the Cougars' program.
Head Coach: Major Applewhite (2nd Year, 7-5)
"The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10-2. We'll fire coaches at 8-4," Houston president Renu Khator infamously said in December 2016, days after Major Applewhite was officially elevated from offensive coordinator.
After a 7-5 first season, Applewhite is still Houston's head coach and the 39-year-old former Texas quarterback said he's finally starting to feel comfortable after a whirlwind 15 months that included Herman's departure for Texas, his promotion to head coach, Hurricane Harvey, and the program's lowest win total since 2012.
"It's been a hell of a year," he said in May. "It's been a great year, a learning year. A lot of lessons on and off the field."
RB Duke Catalon, WR Steven Dunbar, WR Linell Bonner, LB D'Juan Hines, LB Matthew Adams, CB Jeremy Winchester, S Khalil Williams, S Terrell Williams
Four of their five all-conference selections were seniors (Ed Oliver is the lone returnee).
The departures of their top two tacklers — linebackers D'Juan Hines and Matthew Adams — leave big holes in the middle and outside, respectively. Terrell Williams tied for the team lead with four interceptions and seven passes defended.
Offensively, Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner are the big ones. They were reliable despite questionable inconsistent quarterback play.
Returning Offensive Players
QB D'Eriq King, RB Mulbah Car, WR Courtney Lark, WR Keith Corbin, OT Josh Jones, G Braylon Jones, C Will Noble
Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson's departure for Florida led Applewhite to hire former Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles away from Florida Atlantic. He inherits an offense that was surprisingly balanced given quarterback issues. They averaged 1.4 more yards per carry than in 2016 and 0.8 more yards per play, improved their sack rate from 6.9 to 4 percent and converted more than 45 percent of third downs.
Former four-star recruit D'Eriq King split time between quarterback and receiver as a freshman in 2016 before moving center full-time for the final five games of 2017. He's a true dual-threat player who had 333 rushing yards in their final five games, including 141 vs. Tulane.
Tennessee transfer Quinten Dormady arrived this summer but King, who completed 65 percent of his passes over those five games, is still expected to lead Briles' up-tempo system in Week 1.
Bonner and Dunbar are gone and King, obviously, is the full-time quarterback, so their leading returning receivers are Courtney Lark (13 receptions) and Keith Corbin (10). Lark, Corbin and the rest of the group will line up in wide splits in Briles' system, forcing the defense to stretch across the entire field.
“Big shoes to fill,” Lark said after the spring game. “It’s the passing of the torch. We knew one day it was going to happen. It feels good to get that torch passed down to us.”
The backfield torch was also passed, from Duke Catalon to Mulbah Car, the Cougars' only returning running back who had more than 10 carries last year. And the offensive line has some question marks but they return three upperclassmen starters, including senior center Will Noble, the best No. 69 in college football.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Jerard Carter, DT Ed Oliver, LB Emeke Egbule, LB Leroy Godfrey, CB Isaiah Johnson, S Alexander Myres, S Garrett Davis
We all know about Ed Oliver. We all know the likely top-five 2019 draft pick is one of the most dominant players in college football and what he can do.
But what about the rest of a defense that was great in the red zone (20th in the FBS), gave up 0.3 points per play (23rd) and 11.2 yards per completion (18th) but regressed on third downs (65th) and ranked 103rd nationally in sack rate (4.6 percent)?
Alongside Oliver are two capable ends in senior Jerard Carter, who had 5.5 tackles for loss in only five games (injury), and TCU transfer Isaiah Chambers. Behind them is a linebacker group that lost as much talent as any position on the team. They do, however, have a stud on the outside in Emeke Egbule, and a rising junior in the inside in Leroy Godrey.
"He can do anything you ask him to do," outside linebackers coach Dan Carrel said.
Three seniors are expected to anchor the secondary: safety Garrett Davis and corners Isaiah Johnson and Alexander Myres. Davis tied for the team lead with four interceptions and had two picks in their seven-point win over Temple.
QB Quinten Dormady, RB Terence Williams, WR Raelon Singleton, DE Isaiah Chambers, LB Darrion Owens, CB Nick Watkins, S Deontay Anderson
This isn't a Last Chance U situation but holy smokes Applewhite is rolling the dice with quick fixes.
Isaiah Chambers is a 2017 transfer from TCU who sat out last season. The other six are immediately eligible.
Quinten Dormady, for now, adds depth behind King, but the others should see big snaps. Terence Williams is two years removed from a 1,000-yard season at Baylor (in Kendal Briles' offense) and Raelon Singleton averaged more than 17 yards per reception at Utah in 2016.
Elsewhere, Deontay Anderson is only a sophomore but was granted a waiver to play immediately because of the debacle at Ole Miss. Darrion Owens played for coordinator Mark D'Onofrio at Miami (FL) and Nick Watkins had 26 tackles and one interception at Notre Dame last year.
Houston plays two of their four non-conference games away from home, though one is just down the road at Rice Stadium.
They'll finish a home-and-home series with Arizona and the play the second of four scheduled games vs. Texas Tech. Conference play kicks off on Oct. 4 with a Thursday night visit from Tulsa.
For the second straight year, the Cougars miss UCF.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at Rice|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Arizona|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Texas Tech|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Texas Southern|
|Thursday, Oct. 4||vs. Tulsa|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at East Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Navy|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. South Florida|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at SMU|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Temple|
|Thursday, Nov. 15||vs. Tulane|
|Friday, Nov. 23||at Memphis|