When I want to get the best Houston Cougars fan perspective on all things Cougar, I head over to Scott & Holman. Dustin, from S&L was nice enough to give us Miner fans his viewpoint on the upcoming season. (Note: Full Houston Cougars Preview is now up here.
Miner Rush: The biggest change at Houston since last year has been the loss of both coordinators. Offensively, Houston has obviously been a machine, do you expect any change in philosophy under Jason Phillips? Will he alter the Holgorson/Briles spread offense that Coog fans have come to love?
Dustin: I'd be surprised to see much different. All of the important offensive personalities are the same from last year. Sumlin's still the head coach, the OC Phillips was promoted from the co-OC position last year, and co-OC/QBs coach Kliff Kingsbury was promoted to that position from quality control. Obviously, when the offense has been rolling the way it has for the Cougars, there's not a need to change much. Sumlin realized that, which is why there was never really much of a doubt that it would be Phillips who would replace Holgorsen. Phillips played wide receiver for UH using the spread offense under John Jenkins and was an assistant using the spread under Art Briles and Sumlin/Holgorsen, so Cougar fans are pretty confident he knows what he is doing. In the Spring, the offense has looked about the same as previous.
MR: Reports out of Houston say that Brian Stewart's 3-4 will be very aggressive with tons of different blitzing packages. What are your thoughts on the Stewart hire and his defensive philosophy?
S&H: I like the hire. I actually liked when he came straight out and said he wanted to be a head coach some day. Being the DC at Houston has been no easy task. If he can do a good enough job at it to be offered a head coaching job somewhere, the Coogs are going to have some great seasons as a team. I love the attacking philosophy that we've heard about, and saw in the Spring. I never understood the passive "bend, but don't break" philosophy that we used under Skladany. We didn't have the D-line to pull it off. When your offense is as good as Houston's, chances are your opponent is going to try and bleed time off the clock to keep your offense off the field. Why play into their hands? I want to see the defense take some risks, make something happen. If you give up the occasional big play, it's not the end of the world. Houston's basketball-on-grass offense left opposing defenders constantly struggling to keep up. (Or, in the cases of Tulsa and SMU, faking injury to buy time.) If we're going to give up a touchdown regardless, I'd rather it comes quickly, and forces the other team's defense right back on the field. Frankly, nothing we try could possibly work much worse than last year.
MR: Obligatory Case Keenum/ Heisman Question: Case had about as perfect a season as a quarterback could last year. What do you think he has to improve on this year to get Houston to the next level and get to New York?
S&H: Prove that the last two games of last year were a fluke. To have the kind of season that everybody associated with the program wants to have, Case can't be throwing nine picks in two games. Andre Ware got to interview Keenum on College Football Live this off-season, and mentioned that in the 1988 Aloha Bowl, he played the "worst game of his life" (8-28, 44 yards) and used that as motivation all off-season. The next year, Andre Ware won the Heisman Trophy. Keenum acknowledged that his 6-INT performance against Air Force has left a bad taste in his mouth. Other than that, I'd like to see him get a little bit better at throwing the deep ball, but I'm just getting picky at this point.
MR: The Cougars have been warriors when it comes to scheduling. This season, UH plays at UCLA and Texas Tech and has a home game with Mississippi St. Do you like having several marquee non-conference games or would you rather follow the Boise St. model and schedule one good BCS team, a series of cream puffs, and hope to ride an undefeated record to a BCS Bowl?
S&H: I love the take-on-all-comers philosophy. If you look at the last few seasons, it hasn't been the top-tier teams that have given us trouble, anyway. (No offense.) For one, it's way more fun as a fan. I loved traveling to Alabama in '07, and Oklahoma State and Mississippi State in '09. I'm beyond geeked for the Tech and UCLA games this year. UH is also a school that struggles to get the attention of a sports-fickle city. Attendance has improved, but we still can't come close to consistently selling out our 32,000 seat stadium. The fans should show up just to see the home team, but they don't. We need those games to stay relevant to a city that has a million other things to do on a Saturday afternoon. Finally, it would be impossible to overstate the importance of the Tech game last year. Every single UH student knows a hundred kids from their high school who went to UT, A&M and Tech. Students at those schools (and, all too often, UH's own students) see UH as a second-class school. Proving that we could play and beat Tech meant way more than just one game to the psyche of the school.
MR: Who's the best Cougar player that nobody outside of Houston knows about? Is there a new signee, transfer, or guy who flew under the radar last year that's primed for a breakout season?
S&H: Matangi Tonga. He played in all 13 games as a freshman for BYU back in the day, got in a some trouble, spent a couple years at a JuCo, and actually seriously considered going pro this off-season, but came to UH with his one remaining year of eligibility because his family wanted him to get a degree. He was good enough to reportedly get offers from the likes of USC and Arizona State, despite having only a year to play. Given that UH couldn't stop the run with a 4-3 defense last year, and is now switching to a 3-4, they're going to need someone causing havoc up front. Enter Tonga. In his first year at the school, he is quite possibly the most important member of the defense. No pressure.
MR: What are "reasonable expectations" for a Cougar fan this coming season? What will it take for you to consider the season a "success?" Is winning the C-USA title enough?
S&H: That's a fantastic question. As soon as I come up with a good answer, I will let you know. Let me put it this way. If UH, say, is 10-3 with a conference championship under its belt heading into the bowl game, will I consider it a successful season? Sure. If you could offer a guarantee that that's exactly what would happen, would I take it? Probably not. The Houston fan base has been looking forward to this season since before last year. And no matter what anybody says, anything less than a BCS-busting undefeated run will be at least a little disappointing.
MR: Mack Rhoades had a great reputation at UTEP where he served as Associate AD under Bob Stull. If you were Mack for a day, what's the first thing you would change at Houston?
S&H: Mack's relationship with the Houston faithful has been a little tenuous since he threw us all for a loop with the James Dickey hire. Mack wasn't exactly eager to explain himself, either. I don't know that there's one thing I'd necessarily do if I was Mack. I'd rather be able to sit down with him and get some answers. Why Dickey, instead of Billy Gillispie or Rodney Terry? How close are we to seriously upgrading the football and basketball facilities? What are our chances of getting into a better conference when the next round of realignment comes down? If Mack can get a new football stadium, a new basketball arena, and get UH into a BCS conference, he can hire whoever he wants for whatever he wants from now on. Oh, but to answer the question, I guess I would fire the baseball coach. Rayner Noble needs to go.