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The big 2015 Houston football guide: Emulating Ohio State could pay off

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The 128-team countdown previews the landing spot for the country's most-sought assistant coach.

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. High standards

If you're going to fire a guy who went 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, you better stick the landing. You better have somebody in mind, and you better get him.

Mack Rhoades just took over as Missouri's athletic director, but one of his last acts as Houston's A.D. was both difficult and successful. He dumped head coach Tony Levine before the Cougars' appearance in their eighth bowl in 10 years and a week later nailed down the services of Tom Herman, Ohio State's offensive coordinator and the award winner for best assistant in the country.

Houston went 21-17 over the last three seasons, but Levine's first year was marred by the loss of a ton from a 2011 squad that had gone 13-1 under Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars were due a few steps backwards and went 5-7, then rebounded. They flirted with the AAC title in 2013 before a late fade, and they saw a massive regression in luck in finishing 8-5 again in 2014.

Houston won more than eight games just three times in the 20-plus years since the Andre Ware era, with two of those in the three years before Levine took over. After starting 1991 ranked 12th in the preseason polls and crumbling to 4-7, they didn't emerge again as a viable threat until Art Briles showed up more than a decade later. Briles' success -- 6-6 in 2005, 10-4 in 2006, 8-5 in 2007 -- set the table for Sumlin, who went 10-4 in 2009 and 13-1 in 2011; UH reached seventh in 2011 and threatened for a BCS bid until an upset loss in the Conference USA title game.

Briles and Sumlin raised the bar, but Levine couldn't live up. A 7-1 start in 2013 turned into a 1-4 finish, and a 7-5 campaign in 2014 was marred by infuriating home losses, first to UTSA by 20 points (in the Cougars' debut at sparkly new TDECU Stadium, no less), then to Tulane.

Levine's firing was a surprise, but when Houston landed Herman, everything made sense. Herman was given a budget good enough to lock down an impressive staff, one that includes offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

2. Luck revisited

Going by averages, Houston's turnover margin should have been somewhere in the neighborhood of plus-3 or plus-4 last season. It was plus-25. The difference works out to about eight points per game.

Pick your adverb. Houston was absurdly, insanely, hilariously, incomprehensibly lucky.

-- The big 2014 Houston football preview

In 2013, Houston broke the model. The Cougars' turnover numbers -- they recovered 63 percent of all fumbles, 31 percent of their passes defensed (interceptions plus break-ups) were picks (the national average hovers around 22 percent), and 11 percent of their opponents' passes defensed were picks -- were so far out of whack that it was hard to know how to even interpret it. These skewed numbers didn't result in more wins (they went 1-3 in one-possession games), but it prevented them from getting blown out and made them look closer than they were to being an AAC contender.

The turnover numbers were so interesting that Steven Godfrey went to Houston to chat about turnovers last fall.

[Defensive coordinator David] Gibbs has a theory that tempo offenses sacrifice two tenets of old-school football logic when it comes to turnovers:

1. Maximizing the skill players with the best hands. Spread teams often rotate skill players during a drive. [...]

2. The lack of attention given to turnovers in hurry-up practice schedules. Gibbs took a full year off after being let go by the Texans in 2011 and toured college campuses to scout systems before joining the Cougars. [...]

There can be a downside. The emphasis on ball-stripping, no matter how technically sound, allows for additional yardage. That's why Houston ignores total yardage, because a 65-yard drive that ends with a fumble recovery is better than a 45-yard drive that ends with a field goal.

Putting an emphasis on aggressive plays while showing a willingness to give up the occasional big play is rather logical. If you have a defense that is fast enough to make risks pay off, and if you have an offense good enough to keep up on the scoreboard, this approach can work.

But stripping ball-carriers and confusing quarterbacks isn't the same as forcing turnovers. They can create more turnover opportunities, but your fumble recovery rates are still going to regress toward 50 percent over time, and if your ratio of interceptions to break-ups is a bit too high, it's going to regress as well.

That's what we saw in 2014. With the same defensive mindset and the same focus on turnovers, Houston's turnover margin shrank to plus-8; the Cougars recovered 20 of 41 fumbles (49 percent), and while their INT-to-PBU ratio remained high (31 percent of their passes defensed were interceptions), opponents held onto interceptions (29 percent of opponents' passes defensed were interceptions). Quarterback John O'Korn managed just a 2.2 percent interception rate as a freshman, but it more than doubled to 4.6 percent, and he finished 2014 on the bench.

Gibbs' turnover-friendly approach still worked out for him: Levine was fired, but Gibbs got a promotion to Texas Tech defensive coordinator.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 73
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
29-Aug UTSA 109 7-27 L 1% -55.5 0%
6-Sep Grambling State NR 47-0 W 68% 11.0 100%
11-Sep at BYU 46 25-33 L 35% -8.8 34%
20-Sep UNLV 118 47-14 W 55% 3.0 98%
2-Oct Central Florida 60 12-17 L 24% -16.8 14%
11-Oct at Memphis 41 28-24 W 54% 2.6 54%
17-Oct Temple 67 31-10 W 70% 12.5 94%
1-Nov at South Florida 123 27-3 W 81% 20.1 100%
8-Nov Tulane 93 24-31 L 6% -35.6 8%
22-Nov Tulsa 117 38-28 W 29% -12.6 84%
28-Nov at SMU 127 35-9 W 41% -5.3 99%
6-Dec at Cincinnati 47 31-38 L 30% -12.0 24%
2-Jan vs. Pittsburgh 43 35-34 W 46% -2.5 53%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.1 98 28.9 70
Points Per Game 29.8 60 20.6 15

3. A well-timed slide

When you slide from 35th in the F/+ rankings to 73rd and go 2-4 in one-possession games, you can expect your overall record to slide, too. That it didn't for Houston tells you all you need to know about the Cougars' schedule. Seven games against teams that ranked 90th or worse in the F/+ rankings gave them a nice cushion for bowl eligibility.

Immediately following the season-opening dud against UTSA, Houston was a pretty good team, one good enough to take down eventual conference champion Memphis on the road, thump Temple and USF, and nearly beat BYU in Provo. The Cougars fell apart down the stretch, but so did the schedule.

  • Average Percentile Performance (Games 2-8): 55% (record: 5-2)
  • Average Percentile Performance (Games 9-13): 30% (record: 3-2)

Playing at the 55th percentile is playing like a top-60 team; the 30th percentile is a top-90 level. But before the finale at Cincinnati, four consecutive opponents ranked 93rd or worse. And a thrilling comeback against Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl gave them the same record they had in 2013 despite the regression.

Administration wasn't fooled. Wins aside, this was not a good team, and a coaching change was probably warranted.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.82 81 IsoPPP+ 93.5 84
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.3% 68 Succ. Rt. + 93.7 94
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.2 75 Def. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 80 Redzone S&P+ 92.6 87
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.0 ACTUAL 22 +3.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 58 88 87 84
RUSHING 44 48 59 40
PASSING 65 110 109 112
Standard Downs 71 76 68
Passing Downs 107 99 105
Q1 Rk 95 1st Down Rk 63
Q2 Rk 112 2nd Down Rk 59
Q3 Rk 45 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 10

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Greg Ward Jr. 5'11, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 177 263 2010 12 7 67.3% 21 7.4% 6.6
John O'Korn
90 173 951 6 8 52.0% 11 6.0% 4.8
Billy Cosh
5 9 32 0 0 55.6% 0 0.0% 3.6
Bear Fenimore 6'1, 222 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038
Adam Schulz
(Utah)
6'2, 210 Sr. NR NR

4. An exciting (and light) lump of clay

Despite endless injuries, Ohio State quarterbacks produced at an incredibly high level over the last two years. With Tom Herman as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, four Buckeye signal callers (Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton in 2013, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in 2014) completed 64 percent for 6,540 yards, threw for 80 touchdowns to 21 interceptions, averaged 7.5 yards per throw (including sacks), and rushed for 3,099 non-sack yards and 30 touchdowns.

Four quarterbacks, 6,000-plus passing yards, 3,000-plus rushing yards, 110 touchdowns. In two years! Remember when a 2,000/1,000 season was the sign of a great dual-threat quarterback? With Herman calling the shots, Ohio State QBs pulled off 50 percent more than that.

With that in mind, look at Greg Ward Jr.'s stats from 2014. Ward spent the first month as a receiver before taking over at quarterback*, so if you project his nine-game QB totals over 13 games, you get something like 2,900 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, and 1,034 rushing yards. You think Herman can work with that?

Granted, Ward did most of his damage in three games. His passer rating was over 175 against Temple, Tulsa, and Pitt. Against everybody else, his completion rate was 63 percent with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Still, Temple might have had the best defense he faced last year, and his legs (80-plus rushing yards in four games) made him a threat even when the pass wasn't working. Herman liked what he saw from Ward this spring, and he will enter fall camp as the favorite.

Of course, Ohio State's quarterback injuries weren't all because of bad luck; Herman quarterbacks take a lot of hits, and Ward is listed at 178 pounds. Herman has mentioned that he will try to get Ward up to at least 185 by fall, but that is still slight. The odds are good that the backups will be involved. Can Adam Schulz (a Utah starter in 2013 when Travis Wilson got hurt) or Bear Fenimore maintain?

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Kenneth Farrow RB 5'10, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 186 1037 14 5.6 6.1 39.8% 1 1
Ryan Jackson RB 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392 112 610 5 5.4 6.9 39.3% 2 0
Greg Ward Jr. QB 5'11, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 97 716 6 7.4 8.6 46.4% 4 3
John O'Korn QB
21 80 1 3.8 2.4 38.1% 2 0
Javin Webb RB 5'8, 175 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8026 19 133 1 7.0 9.9 36.8% 0 0
Randall Hollimon RB
10 41 0 4.1 0.9 40.0% 0 0
Daniel Spencer WR
5 36 1 7.2 28.1 20.0% 0 0
Kaliq Kokuma RB 6'0, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8238
Tyreik Gray RB 5'11, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8787
Kevrin Justice RB 5'11, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8159






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Deontay Greenberry WR-Y
132 72 841 54.5% 30.9% 57.6% 6.4 -59 6.4 82.8
Markeith Ambles WR-X
50 32 539 64.0% 11.7% 68.0% 10.8 152 11.0 53.1
Demarcus Ayers WR-X 5'10, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8498 48 33 335 68.8% 11.2% 58.3% 7.0 -59 7.0 33.0
Daniel Spencer WR-H
44 24 236 54.5% 10.3% 50.0% 5.4 -64 5.4 23.2
Wayne Beadle WR-H
33 27 242 81.8% 7.7% 57.6% 7.3 -71 7.3 23.8
Ryan Jackson RB 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392 31 25 199 80.6% 7.3% 54.8% 6.4 -92 6.4 19.6
Steven Dunbar WR-Z 6'2, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 30 20 286 66.7% 7.0% 73.3% 9.5 46 9.4 28.1
Greg Ward Jr. QB/WR 5'11, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 29 15 139 51.7% 6.8% 44.8% 4.8 -51 5.1 13.7
Kenneth Farrow RB 5'10, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 24 20 149 83.3% 5.6% 50.0% 6.2 -82 6.1 14.7
Hayden Daniels TE 6'4, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800
Derek McLemore WR-H 5'10, 185 So. NR NR
Donald Gage WR 5'11, 181 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8368
Elton Dyer WR 6'2, 182 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8244
Latrell Martin WR 6'1, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8267
Romello Brooker WR-Z 6'4, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038
Isaiah Johnson WR 6'3, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8176
Chance Allen
(Oregon)
WR 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463
Rusty Clark TE 6'7, 250 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794
Terry Mark WR 6'1, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8497

5. Loaded backfield, unknown receiving corps

Herman's Ohio State attacks were run-first units that used a dual-threat quarterback and a workhorse running back. Buckeye backs averaged about 28 carries per game in 2013-14, and Houston backs should be more than capable.

Seniors Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson averaged about 25 carries and 127 yards per game; both were reasonably efficient and quite explosive. And if one of them gets hurt or tired, there are exciting backups to call on, from sophomore Javin Webb to redshirt freshman Kaliq Kokuma to true freshmen Tyreik Gray and Kevrin Justice. With Ward at the helm of the option, this is a big-play running attack waiting to happen.

That's good because the big plays might be hard to come by in the passing game, at least if 2014 is any indication. Only one returning wideout (Demarcus Ayers) had more than 20 catches, and he averaged barely 10 yards per. Steven Dunbar did average more than 14 yards per catch as a freshman, but he caught just 20 passes, and in terms of known weapons, that's pretty much it. There are plenty of untested three-star options, and if the run is strong enough, there could be plenty of play-action potential.

(Oregon transfer Chance Allen came back to Houston to be closer to his ailing mother, but with the NCAA cracking down on hardship waivers, he probably won't be eligible until 2016.)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 94.9 2.88 2.66 40.4% 66.7% 22.0% 77.8 5.0% 10.8%
Rank 92 77 111 52 66 104 109 74 111
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Rowdy Harper RG 52 2014 1st All-AAC
Bryce Redman C
33
Ben Dew LG 6'4, 315 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 13
Alex Cooper RT 6'4, 297 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 13
Travis Cross LT
12
Zach Johnson RT 6'6, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556 11
Damien Parris RG 6'6, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8351 1
Marcus Oliver LT 6'3, 270 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8042 0
Emeka Okafor LG
0
Mac Long C 6'4, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463 0
Josh Thomas RT 6'6, 315 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8462 0
Carter Wall OL 6'4, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8610 0
Darius Joiner OL 6'4, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7993
Kameron Eloph OL 6'4, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503
Josh Jones OL 6'6, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472

6. What to make of the line?

The offensive line is a mix of experienced former two-star recruits (2014 starters Ben Dew and Alex Cooper and 2013 starter Zach Johnson) and untested former three-stars. It was good at creating downfield opportunities for its runners (52nd in Opportunity Rate) but sprang too many leaks to be successful (104th in Stuff Rate, 109th in Adj. Sack Rate).

Now it must replace three starters, including all-conference guard Rowdy Harper. Line coach Derek Warehime will be tested, though the quality of the backfield will do the line some favors.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.74 11 IsoPPP+ 98.7 70
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.1% 77 Succ. Rt. + 85.1 120
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.4 64 Off. FP+ 98.0 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 23 Redzone S&P+ 79.6 126
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 30.0 +5.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 20 95 115 70
RUSHING 37 103 115 91
PASSING 28 77 107 62
Standard Downs 100 117 79
Passing Downs 85 109 67
Q1 Rk 71 1st Down Rk 62
Q2 Rk 82 2nd Down Rk 64
Q3 Rk 107 3rd Down Rk 77
Q4 Rk 49

7. A hell of a DC hire

David Gibbs' defense was excellent at creating turnover opportunities. It was also woefully inefficient. And now it must replace its starting line and two of its three best linebackers.

It wouldn't be smart to expect too much improvement, but Herman made an inspiring hire in Todd Orlando.

Orlando is still a pretty young guy, but he boasts a decade of coordinator experience, first at UConn, then FIU, then Utah State. His six UConn defenses ranked 51st or better in Def. S&P+ (four in the top 40), his first FIU defense ranked 57th (best ever for FIU), and despite turnover, his two USU defense ranked fifth and 32nd. He usually finds results in his first year, and his aggressive 3-4 scheme fits with the Houston personnel he inherits. While USU made plenty of havoc plays, Orlando's focus in Year 1 will likely be efficiency, even if it comes at the expense of some TFLs and turnovers.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 86.3 3.01 3.64 36.7% 64.7% 18.3% 116 7.6% 5.2%
Rank 119 76 94 35 47 79 34 11 107
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gavin Stansbury DE
13 43.5 5.9% 4.0 2.5 0 0 1 0
Eric Eiland DE
13 32.0 4.4% 3.5 0.5 1 0 0 0
Joey Mbu DT
13 24.5 3.3% 4.5 2.5 1 4 0 0
Trevor Harris DE
11 21.0 2.9% 6.0 3.0 0 1 0 0
B.J. Singleton DT 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8592 13 14.5 2.0% 3.0 1.0 0 3 0 0
Jeremiah Farley DT
13 14.5 2.0% 4.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Cameron Malveaux DE 6'6, 270 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 13 10.5 1.4% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tyus Bowser DE 6'3, 228 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8311 13 9.0 1.2% 3.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Tomme Mark DT 6'2, 285 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8717 12 5.5 0.7% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Nick Thurman DT 6'4, 290 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8159 5 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chauntez Jackson DE 6'4, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463 12 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zach Vaughan DE 6'4, 245 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8429
Jerard Carter DT 6'2, 265 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Mason Denley DE 6'4, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8260
Tyrell Thompson DE 6'3, 255 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Efrem Oliphant MLB
13 101.0 13.8% 8.5 3.5 2 0 1 0
Steven Taylor SLB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 12 55.5 7.6% 9.0 4.0 0 2 3 0
Derrick Mathews MLB
6 40.5 5.5% 4.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Matthew Adams WLB 6'0, 208 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 13 31.0 4.2% 4.5 2.0 0 1 2 0
Elandon Roberts MLB 6'0, 230 Sr. NR NR 12 21.5 2.9% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Luke Stice MLB 6'0, 235 Sr. NR NR 13 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Caleb Tucker WLB
6 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
D'Juan Hines SLB 6'2, 208 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8287 10 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ja'Von Shelley LB 6'1, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8023
D.J. Jenkins LB 6'2, 245 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8114
Jordan Milburn LB 6'2, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956
Camden Ross LB 6'2, 241 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Emeke Egbule LB 6'3, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826








8. Major rebuild in the front seven

If you're going to move from a 4-3 to a 3-4, you might as well do it in a year when you're retooling anyway. Last year, 12 members of Houston's front seven logged at least three tackles for loss, but only five return. Linebacker Steven Taylor is a proven entity, and tackle B.J. Singleton has gotten plenty of playing time over the last two years, but the success of the new defense will hinge on newcomers or former role players like Tyus Bowser (now an OLB), Cameron Malveaux (could end up at either DE or OLB), and linebackers Matthew Adams and Elandon Roberts.

Recruiting hasn't been a major issue, and Orlando should find plenty of exciting athletes, but there is too much to replace here for any serious Year 1 improvement.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Adrian McDonald SS 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7300 13 58.0 7.9% 0.5 0 5 2 3 1
Trevon Stewart FS 5'9, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8357 13 43.5 5.9% 2 0 3 4 0 0
Howard Wilson CB 6'1, 176 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906 13 37.5 5.1% 1 0 3 3 0 0
William Jackson CB 6'1, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 13 30.0 4.1% 1.5 0 2 10 1 0
Brandon Wilson CB 6'0, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8163 13 27.0 3.7% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Turon Walker CB
13 19.0 2.6% 0 0 0 2 1 0
Steven Aikens SS
13 14.5 2.0% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Tyler White DB 5'10, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 13 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lee Hightower DB 6'2, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 6 9.0 1.2% 0.5 0 1 3 0 0
Khalil Williams FS 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119 7 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Earl Foster DB 6'0, 192 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8057 11 6.0 0.8% 1 0 1 0 1 0
Garrett Davis S 6'1, 189 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985
Jeremy Winchester CB 6'0, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8391
Joeal Williams CB 5'10, 180 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8030
Michael Eke DB 6'2, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200








9. Few worries in the secondary

If the front seven is sound, the secondary could thrive. As was the case last year, it appears pass defense will be ahead of run defense, not only because of the turnover up front but because of the return of Houston's top five DBs.

Safeties Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart mixed play-making (2.5 tackles for loss, eight picks, six break-ups, three forced fumbles) with play-prevention, and William Jackson is one of the stickier corners in the AAC. There were some breakdowns, especially against the run, and since Orlando is likely to take some risks up front, big plays could be a concern again. But pass defense is the least of the concerns.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Logan Piper 6'1, 200 Sr. 43 39.3 4 19 13 74.4%
Dylan Seibert 13 42.3 0 2 1 23.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ty Cummings 5'10, 180 Jr. 75 61.6 21 2 28.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Kyle Bullard 5'11, 170 Sr. 42-47 10-15 66.7% 6-7 85.7%
Ty Cummings 5'10, 180 Jr. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Demarcus Ayers KR 5'10, 178 Jr. 34 17.4 0
Ryan Jackson KR 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 12.7 0
Greg Ward Jr. PR 5'11, 178 Jr. 9 7.0 0
Demarcus Ayers PR 5'10, 178 Jr. 5 4.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 96
Field Goal Efficiency 87
Punt Return Efficiency 86
Kick Return Efficiency 125
Punt Efficiency 64
Kickoff Efficiency 26
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 23

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Tennessee Tech NR
12-Sep at Louisville 23
26-Sep Texas State 95
3-Oct at Tulsa 117
8-Oct SMU 127
16-Oct at Tulane 93
24-Oct at Central Florida 60
31-Oct Vanderbilt 115
7-Nov Cincinnati 47
14-Nov Memphis 41
21-Nov at Connecticut 119
27-Nov Navy 44
Five-Year F/+ Rk 2.1% (53)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 79 / 71
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 8 / 6.0
2014 TO Luck/Game +0.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.6 (0.4)

10. Better not fade late

This schedule is the opposite of last year's; Houston plays seven opponents that ranked worse than 90th in F/+, but five pop up among the season's first six games. Three of the four best come after November 1.

Considering the makeup of this team, that could be a good thing. The offense should be prolific enough to put up points against all early opponents not named Louisville, and the defense could have time to find its footing against early opponents like Tennessee Tech and Tulane. Two other early opponents, Tulsa and SMU, will be breaking in as many new pieces on offense as Houston is on defense.

If you're the optimistic type, you can talk yourself into an in-process Houston winning early and an improved Houston playing its best ball against the best opponents (all at home) late. Injuries could derail that, and there's always a chance that questionable units like offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker never gel.

But there are enough weapons at key positions (namely quarterback and running back) to be intrigued. And it's hard not to be impressed enough by Herman and his hires to assume they figure out how to win quite a few games in their first year.