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If you grab a copy of our September issue, you’ll see we're pretty excited about Cougar football—as is head coach Tom Herman. We think you might be, too. Here’s a down-and-dirty UH season preview, two weeks ahead of the 2016 kickoff: 

Heisman Watch

It’s the regional edition, but still: quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is now a Sports Illustrated cover boy. Will the infamous jinx catch up with the Tyler native? Nobody else ever has, so we’re not too worried. Over at 247Sports, Christian Corona makes the case that the Cougars' senior signal caller could see his Heisman Trophy odds (50-1, as of early August) significantly improve with an impressive showing in the program’s marquee opener, against Oklahoma on September 3. “The Heisman voters have been kind to dual-threat quarterbacks in recent seasons, with one taking the stiff-armed trophy home four of the last six years.” Expect teams to stack the line, forcing Ward—an elusive, efficient runner—to rely on his arm. For opposing defenses, it’s the best of two depressing options. “Ward killed us,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told us this summer. “There were some times we thought we had him sacked, or though we had him in our sights, and we just couldn’t tackle him.” 

Luck of the Coogs

If you're feeling squeamish about the Cougars' ability to repeat its charmed 2015 campaign, SB Nation's Bill Connelly won't do much to ease your mind. “It's not hard to see how things could have taken a hard turn for the worse,” he writes: 

  • Houston recovered two of three fumbles and needed a plus-3 turnover margin and a kick return score to beat Louisville by three.
  • The Cougars recovered two of three fumbles and needed a drastic field position advantage (+13 yards per possession) and a pick six to beat Cincinnati by three despite a massive yards-per-play deficit (UC 8.5, UH 4.9).
  • They trailed Memphis by 20 points with 13 minutes left and were outgained by 98 yards, but won when Memphis missed a field goal at the buzzer.

The cumulative odds of winning all three of those games? Just 1.7 percent. So yes, UH overachieved last season, fairly drastically if you take stock in second-order winning percentage, a stat tabulated by Football Outsiders. (We do.) Keep that in mind when setting personal expectations. 

New Faces

Two newcomers should make an immediate impact this fall, one on each side of the ball. The first is Duke Catalon, a former-four star recruit from Eisenhower High and a UT transfer. The 6’0”, 210-pound tailback redshirted before leaving Austin, so he’s actually never taken a collegiate snap. Even so, Athlon Sports named him to their preseason AAC second team. Here's one scouting report, from Burnt Orange Nation:

He's a slasher. Since he redshirted at Texas, I'm going off of his high school film, which is several years old now, but he's a guy who was a pretty no-nonsense runner and maybe not the most dynamic in terms of changing direction, but he has excellent speed and spent a fair amount of time working as a wide receiver, so he's capable of flexing out and being dangerous as a pass catcher.

On the defensive line, it’s Ed Oliver who will turn heads. The five-star Westfield product is the second-rated incoming tackle in the country, quick off the ball and ferocious in the pass rush. During workouts this spring, fellow defender Cameron Malveaux was impressed with Oliver’s athleticism. “We were over on the field doing our run, and the freshman newcomers were doing their run,” he told us. “And I looked over there and Ed was just ahead of all the big guys. The next week, they moved him to run with the linebackers. I thought that was pretty interesting.” So do we. 

Circled on the Calendar

Put these dates in your planner:

  • September 3, vs. Oklahoma (at NRG Stadium): “We’ll win that one easily then move on,” Mayor Turner predicts. “In this first game, I think we’ll win by 14 or possibly 21 points.” Bold leadership!
  • September 29, vs. Connecticut: Payback, anyone? The Huskies were the only program to knock off UH in 2015, and the Coogs will seek revenge under the TDECU lights (and on ESPN).
  • November 17, vs. Louisville: If UH can stay undefeated through the middle of November, preserving their College Football Playoff hopes, they’ll face two huge late-season tests, at home against 23rd-ranked Louisville and on the road against division rival, Memphis. ESPN the Magazine only gives them a 31 percent chance to upend the Cardinals, which seems low to our eyes. Against Memphis, the odds jump to 65 percent.
  • November 25, at Memphis: See above, keep fingers crossed. 
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Coach Tom Herman

Goodbye, AAC? Goodbye, Coach?

Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, UH's former head coach, doesn't like the idea of UH joining the Big 12, if and when the power conference finally expands. Not one bit! It's a view shared by others, and one that Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel considers "stunningly myopic." UH officials agree. With a vote on specific expansion candidates expected sometime near the conference’s regularly scheduled meeting in October, if not sooner, UH boosters are wasting no time, using “friendly political allies, face-to-face lobbying and campaign contributions to make their case,” according to the Texas Tribune.

As for Herman’s future? The blue blood vultures will inevitably circle. Last month, Baylor hired Mack Rhoades to take over as athletic director in Waco. Two years ago, Rhoades—then at UH—hired Herman. Herman is adamant he’s not looking, and he’s pissed anyone would even suggest it. But that doesn’t change one simple fact: “Tom Herman is the most fascinating guy in the college football job market.”

For more on the fascinating coach and his red-hot program, our September feature is here.

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