The Houston Cougars were picked to finish second behind Tulsa in the West division in the annual Conference USA Coaches’ Preseason Poll on Tuesday.
Tulsa, which won the division last year after handing UH a 56-7 defeat to secure the top spot in the West, was picked unanimously to repeat their performance. With 59 points, UH finished 13 points behind Tulsa, which earned 72 points in the voting.
Still, sophomore quarterback Case Keenum isn’t too concerned with the poll.
"Anything could happen at any time and we’re just going to go out and expect the best and work hard, and I think we’re going to be successful," Keenum said.
Seniors defensive end Phillip Hunt and safety Kenneth Fontenette were named to the Preseason All-Conference USA first team for defense. Although UH averaged over 500 yards of total offense per game last year, no Cougars were named to the offensive team.
Fontenette said it was an "honor," but "doesn’t mean anything" in the long run.
"It’s all based on last season, not this season," he said.
As a senior, Fontenette has far loftier goals for himself and his team.
"I want to go undefeated. If you look at the schedule, we play a lot of rough games at home, so that should give us a little bit of an edge. I think we have the talent, I think we could do it. That’s what I want most, to go undefeated," he said.
Keenum agreed the pre-season polls do little to predict what will happen during the season and is confident the new Cougars will perform well and returning players to continue their success.
"We have a lot of guys that are ready to make a name for themselves. (We have) a lot of new faces, and we have a whole lot of us that are coming back and deserve a lot of credit for a lot that they’ve done and I think they’re going to do it again this year," Keenum said.
UH finished the 2007 season with an 8-5 record and an appearance in the Texas Bowl, marking the third consecutive year UH reached a postseason bowl game. The Cougars finished the season ranked fourth nationally in offense.
The Cougars begin their first season under new head coach Kevin Sumlin, former offensive coordinator and assistant coach at Oklahoma, against Southern on Aug. 22, but some fans are already looking forward to next season.
UH athletics director Dave Maggard announced a two-year series against Texas Tech beginning with a game on Sept. 26, 2009. The Cougars will travel to play Texas Tech at home in Lubbock in 2010.
"We are pleased to schedule a Big 12 opponent like Texas Tech that has been ranked and nationally respected," Maggard said. "This continues our philosophy of scheduling some of the nation’s top teams and bringing exciting football to Robertson Stadium."
The Red Raiders finished the 2007 season with a 9-4 record and ranked among the top 10 teams in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense.
The Cougars and Raiders have not played each other for over a decade. The last time the two teams met was in 1995 at the Astrodome, which Texas Tech won 38-26. However, UH has the overall lead against Texas Tech with a 17-10-1 record against them.
For now, Keenum and the Cougars are just focusing on winning games this year.
"We’ve got a lot of talented players (and) great coaches and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen," Keenum said.