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College Football Predictions: No. 49 Houston Cougars

The countdown of the top 50 teams in the country continues with another set of Cougars. After Washington State started things off at No. 50, the Houston Cougars come in at No. 49. The sportsbook will have Houston as one of the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference championship.

Houston has an embarrassment of riches on offense after finishing third in the AAC in passing offense in 2021. Scoring points will not be a problem in Houston’s final season in the AAC before the school joins the Big 12 Conference in 2023. The issue for the Cougars could come on the other side of the ball.

Clayton Tune #3 of the Houston Cougars carries the ball during the first half of the 2021 American Conference Championship against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Clayton Tune | Emilee Chinn/Getty Images/AFP

Both of Houston’s losses a season ago came when the Cougars gave up more than 30 points. The defense probably won’t hold opponents to a conference-leading 302 yards per game as they did in 2021. However, there are enough returning players to think that they could still be a solid group on defense.

The electrifying Marcus Jones saved the Cougars with his big-play ability on special teams and that will be missed. Kicker Dalton Witherspoon is also gone.

According to the college football odds, Houston is tied with Cincinnati among American Athletic Conference programs with an expected regular-season win total of 9½.

  • Houston Cougars

    • 2021 record: 12-2
    • 2021 conference record: 8-1 (American Athletic Conference)
    • Head coach: Dana Holgorsen
    • Odds to win national title: +25000

There aren’t many teams that return their leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler. However, that is exactly the situation Houston finds itself in.

Clayton Tune is heading into his fifth season playing quarterback at Houston, including the third season in a row as the clear No. 1 QB. He will look to continue to find Nathaniel Dell, who led Houston with 90 receptions last season. Alton McCaskill made quite the impression as a freshman when he ran for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns. Ta’Zhawn Henry (513 yards, seven TD runs) also returns.

Houston did lose five of the 10 players who had at least 10 receptions. However, the Cougars added a number of receivers: Cody Jackson, from Oklahoma, Joseph Manjack from USC, Brice Johnson from Ole Miss and Sam Brown from West Virginia.

Other notable transfers joining the offense are running back Brandon Campbell from Southern California, offensive lineman Tyler Johnson from Texas and Lance Robinson from Middle Tennessee, and quarterback Lucas Coley from Arkansas. The offensive line will be led by Patrick Paul.

Leading tackler Donavan Mutin returns but three of the top six tacklers are gone, including 2022 NFL draft picks Logan Hall and Marcus Jones. That is the side of the ball where there are more questions. Linebacker Jamal Morris was brought in from Oklahoma. Other key returnees on defense are defensive lineman Derek Parish and defensive back Gervarrius Owens. Houston does have some depth on the defensive line that should help deal with the loss of Hall.

Jones will certainly be missed in the secondary where he had five of the Cougars’ 14 interceptions. He might be an even bigger loss on special teams. Jones returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns a season ago.

Houston lost 20 players via transfer. Most of them are younger players who didn’t see the field much. The biggest loss among the outgoing transfers is probably Jeremy Singleton, who was second on the team with 29 catches and 495 receiving yards.

  • 2022 Houston Outlook

The 2022 Houston Cougars could very well be playing in the conference title game in their final season as a member of the AAC, especially if the defense comes along quicker than anticipated.

It doesn’t hurt that two of the other top contenders (Cincinnati and Central Florida) aren’t on the schedule in 2022. If Houston gets by Texas-San Antonio in the season opener, the rest of the schedule looks pretty manageable, with the college football picks likely to favor the Cougars in each game the rest of the way. Houston is currently listed as a 4½-point favorite against UTSA. Road games against Memphis and Southern Methodist could be interesting, but there isn’t a game on the schedule that Houston can’t win.

That is both positive and negative. Cincinnati was able to use a win over Notre Dame to propel itself into the four-team College Football Playoff field last season. The average expected win total of Houston’s opponents is 5.4 and that is just not going to get it done when it comes to earning national respect. There doesn’t appear to be a game on the regular-season schedule that will captivate poll voters the way Cincinnati’s win over Notre Dame did.

This will be a fun team to watch, especially on offense with proven playmakers at quarterback, running back and receiver to go with some proven linemen. The physical presence of defensive lineman Hall and electrifying speed of defensive back and special teams return ace Jones won’t be easy to replace.

  • 2022 Houston Schedule

    • Sept. 3 at Texas-San Antonio
    • Sept 10 at Texas Tech
    • Sept. 17 vs Kansas
    • Sept. 24 vs Rice
    • Sept. 30 vs Tulane
    • Oct. 7 at Memphis
    • Oct. 22 at Navy
    • Oct. 29 South Florida
    • Nov. 5 at Southern Methodist
    • Nov. 12 vs Temple
    • Nov. 19 at East Carolina
    • Nov. 25 vs Tulsa

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