College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.
No. 15: HOUSTON COUGARS
Last Season: 13-1 (7-1 American Athletic, won 38-24 against Florida State in the Peach Bowl).
Last Five Seasons: 47-19 (one conference title, four bowl games).
Coach: Tom Herman (second season, 13-1).
Overview: It all came together last season for the Cougars — a conference title, a school record for victories and a resounding Peach Bowl victory against Florida State. Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator, probably could’ve departed for another job after making a huge impact in his first Houston season, but he wisely remained at the helm. Another outstanding season is within reach.
Player To Watch: QB Greg Ward Jr. He was a magician last season, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,108 more yards and a whopping 21 touchdowns. A converted wide receiver, Ward is worth the price of admission and could very likely be on the short list for Heisman Trophy consideration.
Top Newcomer: RB Duke Catalon, a transfer from Texas who sat out last season, will be counted on to replace the ultra-versatile Kenneth Farrow, the best of the program’s top three runners that have departed.
All-Conference Potential: DL B.J. Singleton, LB Steven Taylor, QB Greg Ward Jr.
Key Question: Will Houston pick up where it left off in 2015? Obviously, it was an incredible 13-win season, one of the most successful in program history. But each team is its own entity and now Houston has inherited a large target.
Best Unit: Quarterbacks. Greg Ward Jr., is one of the nation’s top players at his position, joining Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as the nation’s only quarterback to pass for at least 2,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000. Junior Kyle Postma, who might double as the team’s punter, is a capable backup.
Good Stat: Bounce of the ball? Sometimes, it helps. The Cougars led the nation with 35 takeaways last season (and they have a nation-leading 108 since the 2013 season). Houston also recovered 65 percent of its fumbles last season, the second-best ratio in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Bad Stat: The Cougars were weak against the pass last season, surrendering an average of 274.7 yards per game to rank 115th nationally.
Big Game: Sept. 3, Oklahoma (at Houston’s NRG Stadium). Of course, it’s vital for Houston to do well in its AAC schedule and repeat as conference champions. But there’s a larger goal in play. If Houston can upset the Sooners in this “neutral-site’’ game — let’s not kid ourselves, the Houston Texans’ NFL facility is five miles from UH’s campus and 436 miles from OU’s campus — the Cougars could become legitimate players for the College Football Playoff.
There are some question marks here. The offensive line, except for sophomore center Will Noble, is mostly inexperienced. The secondary is replacing some key performers. Houston is a solid favorite to win the AAC, but by no means a shoe-in (rapidly improving South Florida could be waiting the conference title game). But overall, the Cougars have plenty of positives and another special season could be at hand.
Next: No. 14 Baylor.