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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Cougars welcome pressure for repeat

UH football head coach Art Briles would love to lead the Cougars to a second consecutive Conference USA title, but history won’t be on his side.

Since C-USA’s inception in 1996, there has only been one repeat champion (former member Louisville won back-to-back titles in 2001-02). That gives hope to the league’s 11 other teams, who watched with envy as the Cougars romped to a 10-4 finish.

But the ever-optimistic Briles sees this hurdle as extra incentive for him and his players to defy the odds, an opinion he repeatedly expressed during the Conference USA Media Days on Tuesday in New Orleans.

"History shows that it has been a tough duty to repeat as a champion, not just in Conference USA, but across the nation in all leagues," said Briles, who enters his fifth season at Houston with a record of 26-24. "It’s definitely a motivating force for us to not be a one-hit wonder and to turn into a dominant program."

Houston, which returns with 18 starters and 52 lettermen, was picked to repeat as West Division champions in the C-USA preseason coaches’ poll.

The predictions only lend more weight to the heavy target already on the Cougars’ backs, but they’re not concerned about the pressure.

"I want (the target) on our backs," senior running back Anthony Alridge said. "I don’t want it on nobody else but us because if the target’s on our back, that means we’re winning. I don’t care what other people do or what other people say; it’s all about the University of Houston.

Those might seem like big words coming from a small man (Alridge is listed at 5-9, 175 pounds), but he’s more than capable of backing them up. Alridge, a 2006 All C-USA second-team selection, is expected to carry the brunt of the Cougars’ running attack after rushing for a team-leading 959 yards (10.1 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns last season.

Alridge will have the important task of keeping pressure off the starting quarterback. Briles has yet to name the replacement for star quarterback Kevin Kolb, who became a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in April after starting all four years of Briles’ tenure.

The three candidates are redshirt sophomore Blake Joseph, redshirt freshman Case Keenum and transfer Al Pena.

Briles is willing to rotate the quarterbacks for a few games until he finds a full-time starter.

"We’re going to go through the process," Briles said. "Pena came in this summer and we hadn’t had a chance to work with him, so we want to work with him and see how he fits in. "

The Cougars garnered a substantial amount of respect with last season’s breakout season and expect to accomplish even more this season. And although the team would rather not let preseason predictions go to its head, it appreciates the attention.

"Our guys got a championship ring, and that’s what people want to get," Briles said. "What we have to do is to understand the sacrifices, determination and discipline it took to get to that, and be that more determined and disciplined to sustain it."

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