| FTBL Team Capsule; Houston

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University of Houston

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Nickname: Cougars
2006 Record: 10-4 (7-1 in Conference USA - Champions)
Head Coach: Art Briles (5th year at Houston – 26-24)

Overview

Despite the loss of key offensive players, Houston returns in 2007 as the favorite to repeat as Conference USA Champions. With a strong core of 17 returning starters from last year’s 10-4 squad, the Cougars are in a position to be the first repeat C-USA champion since Louisville in 2000-2001. Other than its 44-36 Liberty Bowl loss to South Carolina, Houston dropped three games by a total of eight points. Its Southern Miss loss was avenged in the C-USA Championship game.


The Series and Cougar History

The Cougars have lost in all nine meetings with Alabama. The most recent game was a 37-14 loss in 1999 against the eventual SEC Champion. Although now doing well after a span of dismal years, Houston has had significant success since it began its program in 1946, with ten conference championships (Missouri Valley, Southwest Conference, C-USA) and seventeen bowl appearances to their credit. AP rankings of fourth in 1976 and fifth in 1979 were high water marks for the Cougars nationally. Notable bowl victories include a Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska in 1979, as well as a 1969, 36-7 Bluebonnet Bowl blowout of the former Alabama Polytechnic Institute.


Offense

The offense loses its most productive weapons in QB Kevin Kolb, RB Jackie Battle and receiver Vincent Marshall. As a 50-game starter for the Cougars, Kolb surpassed former Cougars David Klingler and Andre Ware in career passing yardage, total offense and TD passes. Four starting linemen, including two with all-conference credentials, return to anchor the Cougar attack.

The loss of Kolb, the undisputed on-field leader of Houston’s resurgence, cannot be overlooked. Redshirt Sophomore Blake Joseph has had two years to learn Briles’ spread offense. Although he is untested in significant game action, his Spring was sufficient to get the starting spot. Joseph is a much better runner than Kolb and brings another dimension to the QB position. An interesting twist to the QB situation is the pending transfer of Oklahoma State QB Al Pena to Houston. Pena has petitioned the NCAA to grant immediate eligibility. An experienced player, Pena will be in the mix if he is granted eligibility. The loss of leading receiver Vincent Marshall will hurt, but returning receivers Donnie Avery and Jeron Harvey together accounted for 98 catches, 9 TDs and over 1,500 yards.

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Alridge

Although the Cougars run a sophisticated spread offense that elicits images of gaudy passing statistics, the reality is that the rushing game plays a substantial role in the Houston attack. In 2006, Houston actually attempted more rushes (490) than passes (445). Although the loss of running back Jackie Battle is significant, speedster Anthony “Quick Six” Alridge had a strong second half of 2006, converting from WR and becoming the small, speedy alternative to Battle. Aldridge posted 959 yards and 8 TDs on just 95 carries. His 10.1 yards per carry last year established a new all-time record for the Cougars. At just 5-9, 170, Aldridge is not suited for short yardage situations or running between the tackles, but he is a long-yardage threat as a running back or as a return man.

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Jeff Akeroyd

With the loss of just one offensive lineman, the line should again be strong. The line is anchored by Senior All-Conference guard Jeff Akeroyd. At 295 pounds, Akeroyd overcame a knee injury that caused him to miss almost all of the 2005 season, and has developed into a very physical run blocker to compliment his tremendous pass protection skills.

Offensively, there is sufficient returning experience for the Cougars to continue its success in executing the spread offense. The loss of Kolb, however, makes it likely that the 2007 squad will fall short of last year’s league leading output of 446 yards (7th nationally) and 33 points per game (10th nationally).

Defense

With lower offensive output likely, Houston’s 3-4 defense will have to improve its performance this year to keep them competitive. The 2006 squad allowed 23.5 points (64th nationally) and 351 yards (72nd nationally) per game.

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Lubojasky

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Allen

The Cougars have eight returning starters, including all four linebackers. Junior Cody Lubojasky and Senior Trent Allen are the core of the corp, aided by returning starters Rodney Rideau and Brendan Puhulu. Allen logged 95 tackles last year, including two TFL. Junior defensive end Phillip Hunt is perhaps the best returning defender, logging 58 tackles (12 TFL) and eight sacks last year. Hunt may well improve over last year’s numbers, but he will certainly get much attention from offenses, likely seeing double- and triple-teams. .

Although the Houston defense was somewhat porous last year, they did force a respectable 25 turnovers. The secondary loses Will Gulley, who led the Cougars with five interceptions last year, but is bolstered by the return of strong safety Rocky Schwartz, the leading tackler in 2005, who was lost to a knee injury in 2006. The secondary also returns two starters from last year, CB Kenneth Fontenette and S Ernest Miller. Schwartz’ ability to return to 2005 form will be key to the secondary’s performance.


Special Teams

Junior Ben Bell returns for kicking duties this year after a strong 2006, going 14 for 18 in field goals and 51 of 53 in PATs. KO returns will be handled again this year by RB Anthony “Quick Six” Aldridge, and he or CB Fontenette stand to get the nod for punt returner. With a net punting average of just 30 yards (last in C-USA and 114th nationally), the Cougars must improve to help its defense.


Trivia:
:idea: Although the Cougars played in front of 56,000 fans at the 2006 Liberty Bowl, they played just two regular season games in front of over 25,000 fans last season (32,000 at USM and 36,000 at Miami).
:idea: Former Tide player George Pugh is the Wide Receivers coach for the Cougars.


Outlook

Look for Houston to return to the C-USA title game and to be bowl bound for its fourth time in five years. Season Prediction: 9-5. Game Prediction: Bama 27, Houston 16.

By: It Takes Eleven
 
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