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Houston couldn't have done many things better last year en route to a 13-1 record and a Peach Bowl win over Florida State. If it wasn't for a misstep against Connecticut, the Cougars could've gone undefeated, depending on the bowl game they got. With a lot of important returning pieces, most notably quarterback Greg Ward Jr., there's no reason why they can't repeat last year's success.
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Ward was everything for this offense that scored 40.4 points per game. And when he got hurt, it led to Houston's only loss of the season. Ward still has some improvements to make in his senior season after passing for 17 TDs and 6 INTs. Yet, his legs are probably the most important part to his game after leading the team with 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. That said, it's important he stays healthy.
The offensive line has some holes and could mean this offense struggles a bit at times. They return just two starters, while bringing in junior college talent and likely a couple underclassmen in the starting lineup. The skill positions are filled with transfers as well with Duke Catalon expected to be the starting running back and Ra'Shaad Samples the new slot receiver. Ward still has familiar faces to throw to in Chance Allen (56 receptions, 752 yards, 6 TD) and Steven Dunbar (382 yards, 3 TDs) so that should help. Catalon replaces Kenneth Farrow, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry a year ago.
The defensive side was the bigger improvement for the Cougars last season, but that group loses a good portion of players, most importantly in the secondary. As a positive, there are multiple studs on the front end of the defense, led by seniors in tackle B.J. Singleton and linebackers Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser. Brandon Wilson also has some experience at cornerback, and he's probably the most athletic guy on the team. The secondary actually didn't have great numbers last year, but that was in part to Houston getting out to leads in almost every game.
The opening schedule is not a friendly one for the Cougars as they get to play Oklahoma at a neutral site. That game isn't impossible to win, but it will be extremely difficult. An early road game at Cincinnati will also be a tough test after beating the Bearcats 33-30 last season. Other than that, it's mostly smooth sailing for Houston until games against Louisville and Memphis to close the season.
The AAC West division should be theirs once again, but there are multiple spots for losses on the schedule for them. Houston's over/under at 5Dimes without postseason play is at 9 (over 9 is -170) and that's an attainable mark. The minimal amount of wins the Cougars get may be nine, as long as Ward stays healthy. The defense could be equally as good and that will be enough for this team to take down most of the conference.
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2016 Houston Cougars Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Oklahoma (NRG Stadium)
Sept. 10 vs. Lamar
Sept. 15 at Cincinnati
Sept. 24 at Texas State
Sept. 29 vs. Connecticut
Oct. 8 at Navy
Oct. 15 vs. Tulsa
Oct. 22 at SMU
Oct. 29 vs. UCF
Nov. 12 vs. Tulane
Nov. 17 vs. Louisville
Nov. 25 at Memphis
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