Houston's chances at breaking into the College Football Playoff begin and end with star quarterback Greg Ward Jr., a dynamic playmaker who returns this season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 11 Houston

Posted July 20th, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 12 Ole Miss (Related coverage: Maturing Ward gives upstart Houston a solid start at quarterback)

The Cougars will contend if … quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December. The Cougars lost only one game all season in 2015, and that came when Ward didn’t start against UConn because of an injury. Ward is one of the most electrifying playmakers in college, and while slight of build — he’s listed at a generous 5-11, 185 — he plays big for his position. He has a 19-2 record as a starter.

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INSIDE THE COUGARS

Coach: Tom Herman (second year, 13-1)

2015: 13-1, 7-1 in the AAC; beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, 38-24

Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense

The key game: Sept. 3, Oklahoma

Hello: RB Duke Catalon, WR Ra’Shaad Samples

Goodbye: RB Kenneth Farrow (San Diego Chargers), DB William Jackson III (Cincinnati Bengals)

Spring cleaning: The Cougars were one of the best feel-good stories of 2015. Herman brought a championship mentality from his days with Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and the American Athletic Conference offered very little resistance to Houston and its mercurial QB who was one of only two FBS quarterbacks to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson was the other. … The Cougars are hoping to tighten things up on the other side of the ball, but will have to do so without William Jackson III, a ballhawk who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. Also gone from the secondary are Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart, who combined for 26 picks over the last couple of years.

Houston's Chance Allen, shown scoring a second-quarter touchdown in the Peach Bowl win over Florida State, was the Cougars' second-leading receiver in 2015. He returns this season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Houston’s Chance Allen, shown scoring a second-quarter touchdown in the Peach Bowl win over Florida State, was the Cougars’ second-leading receiver in 2015. He returns this season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Greg Ward Jr., 232-345-2,828 yards, 17/6 (1st)

Rushing: Greg Ward Jr. (QB), 198-1,108-21 (1st); Kaliq Kokuma (RB), 18-92-0 (8th)

Receiving: Chance Allen, 56-752-6 (2nd); Steven Dunbar, 31-382-3 (3rd)

Tackles: OLB Steven Taylor, 92 (T-2nd)

Sacks: OLB Steven Taylor, 10 (1st)

RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (4)

Offense: QB Greg Ward Jr. (2nd team), C Will Noble (honorable mention)

Defense: DT B.J. Singleton (2nd), OLB Steven Taylor (2nd)

FYI …

  • The biggest question moving forward will be how long Herman stays in Houston’s employ. He signed a new five-year contract in December that pays him about $2.8 million annually after reportedly turning down South Carolina for its head coaching job that eventually went to Will Muschamp.
  • Houston fans also were pleased that offensive coordinator Major Applewhite is returning for a second season after he was reportedly contacted for the Texas State head coaching position. Under Applewhite, the Cougars were one of only there FBS schools to average over 235 yards both rushing and passing.
  • Reports circulated this week that athletic director Hunter Yuracheck met with the Pac-12 commissioner to discuss a possible move if the conference adds teams. Houston also has been mentioned as a possible Big 12 expansion target.

Houston's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3Oklahoma
Sept. 10Lamar
Sept. 15at Cincinnati*W, 33-30
Sept. 24at Texas StateW, 59-14
Sept. 29UConn*L, 20-17
Oct. 8at Navy*W, 52-31
Oct. 15Tulsa*W, 38-24
Oct. 22at SMU*W, 49-28
Oct. 29UCF*W, 59-10
Nov. 12Tulane*W, 42-7
Nov. 17LouisvilleW, 34-31
Nov. 25at Memphis*W, 35-34
* AAC game

Houston: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201513-1 / 7-1— / 8thChick-fil-A Peach Bowl, W
20148-5 / 5-3— / —Armed Forces Bowl, W
20138-5 / 3-5— / —BBVA Compass Bowl, L
20125-7 / 4-4— / —No bowl
201113-1 / 8-0— / 18thTicket City Bowl, W
Total47-19, 27-134 bowl games (3-1)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 10th (40.4 ppg)

Scoring defense: 20th (20.7 ppg)

Passing yards: 44th (248.4 ypg)

Rushing yards: 13th (235.8 ypg)

TOP 25 SO FAR …

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Washington

No. 16: Georgia

No. 15: Michigan State

No. 14: USC

No. 13: TCU

No. 12: Ole Miss

No. 11: Houston

No. 10: Coming Thursday. Want a hint? This school is on Texas’ 2016 schedule (and it’s not UTEP, Kansas or Iowa State).

BY CONFERENCE

4 schools: Pac-12 (14-USC, 17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)

3 schools: Big 12 (13-TCU, 19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)

2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big Ten (15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); SEC (12-Ole Miss, 16-Georgia)

1 school: AAC (11-Houston); Mountain West (24-Boise State)

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