Houston Cougars: CFN College Football Preview 2021

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College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Houston season with what you need to know.

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis
– Houston Cougars Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 3-5 overall, 3-3 in AAC
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen, 3rd year, 7-13 (68-54 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 69
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 101
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 56

Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense worked, but it was brutally inconsistent and had a wee bit of a problem scoring. The line wasn’t bad, the team controlled the clock, and the passing game was solid, but the 30-point-per-game average is misleading. The scoring production wasn’t enough throughout the year.

Houston was 3-0 when scored 37 points or more, and 0-5 when it didn’t.

With around eight starters returning from the New Mexico Bowl loss to Hawaii, and with a slew of dangerous parts coming in through the transfer portal, this should finally be the year when head coach Dana Holgorsen’s attack works.

The Cougars have their quarterback in Clayton Tune. He finally worked his way into the job after D’Eriq King left early in 2019, and now he should know what he’s doing. He can run, and he’s got the skills to make the O go, but he needs to cut down on his picks and be more accurate. Now he has a full offseason to get ready, and he has a loaded receiving corps to throw to.

Marquez Stevenson might be gone, and good targets Keith Corbin (Jackson State) and Tre’Von Bradley (UTSA) might have moved on, but leading receiver Nathanial Dell is back after catching just 29 passes for 428 yards and three picks, there are plenty of other options, and there might be an overall upgrade to the corps. KeSean Carter is coming in from Texas Tech, Seth Green arrives from Minnesota, and Jaylen Erwin left UCLA for the Cougars.

All the offensive line has to do is be okay. The passing game will do the rest and the backs are in place to do far more with the ground attack – more on that later. Four of the five starters are expected back up front, but the best of the bunch – OT Braylon Jones – is done.

Leading rusher Kyle Porter is gone, but the backfield might be better. Mulbah Car can handle the work and Chandler Smith is a speedy veteran returning for his super-senior year.

Texas Tech transfer Ta’Zawn Henry is finally ready after having to sit out last season, and coming in from the recruiting class is Alton McCaskell, a dynamite home run hitter with 6-1, 200-pound size, track star speed, and No. 1 back upside right out of the gate.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Defense

4. Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Technically, 11 starters return from a defense that was second in the conference in sacks and fourth in total D, but that doesn’t could leading tackler Grant Stuard and DE Payton Turner who were out late last year getting ready to do their work at the next level. Even so, this is a deep and experienced group with a whole lot of nice parts, but has to be stronger after allowing 32 points per game.

The defensive backs made all of the tackles when Stuard didn’t. Thanks to the super-senior season, four of the top five tacklers – all defensive backs – anchor the D, and that doesn’t sound speedy corner Marcus Jones. The safeties can pop and the corners are solid, and now the big plays have to come after picking off just three passes. More on that in a bit.

There’s no replacing the pass rushing talent of Turner, but super-senior David Anenih is back after coming up with 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss – second on the team in both – and fellow end Derek Parish was third in the categories. There isn’t a ton of bulk inside, but there’s enough of a rotation to be okay against the run.

There might not be another Stuard, but there are lots and lots of options and veterans to play around with. Not only are most of the key guys from the New Mexico Bowl back, but the defense gets back Donavan Mutin, who made 61 stops in 2019 but missed most of last year hurt. Not only is this group deep, but it can fly.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Houston Cougars Offensive Player

QB Clayton Tune, Jr.
It’s time for it to all come together. The 6-3, 215-pounder gets a normal chance to have a real season, and now he’s got all of the experience, the players around him, and the time logged in this offseason to be an AAC star.

He has to be more accurate after completing just 58% for his career with 21 picks, but he also threw for 4,376 yards and 34 touchdowns and ran for 55 yards and eight scores.

2. WR Jeremy Singleton, Jr.
3. RB Mulbah Car, Sr.
4. WR Nathaniel Dell, Soph.
5. OT Reuben Unije, Soph.


Houston Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best Houston Cougars Defensive Player

CB Damarion Williams, Sr.
He might not be the flashiest corner around, and he didn’t come up with a pick last year, but he’s tough as nails and he breaks up a ton of passes. The 5-11, 180-pounder made 73 tackles with two interceptions in his first year with the program, and last year he made made 27 stops with seven broken up passes.

2. CB Marcus Jones, Jr.
3. LB Donavan Mutin, Soph.
4. S Thabo Mwaniki, Jr.
5. LB Deontay Anderson, Sr.

Top Incoming Houston Cougars Transfer

WR KeSean Carter, Sr.
The Texas Tech transfer isn’t alone with Seth Green a great get for the receiving corps from Minnesota, but he’s got the potential to be one of the team’s biggest difference-makers. He’s a smallish quick target who caught 83 passes with 831 yards and seven touchdowns in his three seasons with the Red Raiders, and he could be used as a runner and punt returner, too.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Houston Cougars Biggest Key: Offense

Let’s get this running game going already. The Cougars have too many good receivers and – potentially – too strong a passing attack to not keep winging the ball all over the yard, but the offensive line is in place and the backs are good enough to grind it out at times, too.

Even with QB Clayton Tune running well enough to be the team’s second-leading rusher, the Cougars managed more than 160 yards on the ground just once – blowing up for 319 against USF – and averaged under four yards per carry.

This isn’t one of those teams that has to run well to win, but it would be nice. At the very least, just get closer to five yards per carry, show more pop and explosion, and every once in a while, settle things down with a 200-yard running day.

Houston Cougars Biggest Key: Defense

Start taking the ball away. The defense wasn’t bad last season, and there’s more than enough talent, depth and experience returning to be even better, but it’s got to come up with more big plays.

The defense generated 24 takeaways in 2018, struggled to do anything big in 2019, and fell off the takeaway map in 2020 with just six forced turnovers.

It came up with two in the blowout loss to UCF, failed to get one in three games, and came up with one in the other four. That means the Cougars failed to come up with multiple takeaways in 17 of their last 18 games.

Houston Cougars Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Clayton Tune, Jr.
Everything else is in place for the offense to blow up. Now the guy running it has to be amazing. There’s not really a good Plan B with Logan Holgorsen transferring out and no one else with any real experience.

It might be this simple. If Tune is great, the Cougars can win the American Athletic Conference title. If he’s not, it might be yet another disappointing and lost season under Dana Holgorsen.

Houston Cougars Key Game To The 2021 Season

at Tulsa, Oct. 1
If this really is a good enough Cougar team to challenge for the conference title, it has to take out Navy in the AAC opener without much of an issue. That’s at home, the next two games against Tulsa and Tulane aren’t.

This might not be the same Tulsa team that shocked the conference last year, but it’s still good and it’s on the road. Get through the next two games, and with no UCF or Cincinnati to deal with, and USF and Temple the other two AAC road games, it’ll be all there for the taking.

Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis

2020 Houston Cougars Fun Stats

– Punt Return Average: Houston 18.5 yards – Opponents -1.2
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 72 – Houston 37
– Fumbles: Houston 7 (lost 6) – Opponents 9 (lost 3)

NEXT: Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Houston Cougars College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Enough is enough. It’s time for this Dana Holgorsen era to finally get going and start to make Houston the powerhouse program in the American Athletic Conference again.

It’s been a bizarre two year with the interesting – I’ll say it; it should’ve worked – move in 2019 to go all young and build for the future after an epic late play by Tulane led to a 1-3 start for the Cougars. And then, of course, 2020 was 2020, and Houston was one of those programs that just couldn’t get the season up and flying with any sort of normalcy.

But there’s a positive out of all of that.

This year’s team is loaded with veterans, it’s full of quality depth, and it was able to work the transfer portal to fill in the gaps.

It would be nice to have a sure-thing backup quarterback in case disaster strikes, and there needs to be more of a pass rush, a better running game, and a few tweaks here and there, but this is it. This is the time when the luck and breaks go the other way, and none are bigger than …

The schedule.

Set The Houston Cougars Regular Season Win Total At … 9

Texas Tech is a bit of a toss-up, but Rice, Grambling State and UConn all have to be wins. And then there’s the American Athletic Conference run …

No UCF. No Cincinnati. Memphis is a home game and so is – it might really matter this year – SMU.

If you’re a team looking to win something important, conference road games against Tulsa, Tulane, USF and Temple can’t be your barrier.

It’s a conference loaded with talent, experience, and national notoriety. Houston has the ability to take over again.


– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
Houston Cougars Schedule Analysis