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Football’s five to face in the 2016 season

The college football season is just 10 weeks away. Expectations have never been higher for the Cougars, especially when they have a non-conference schedule featuring two perennial powers from major conferences and teams from the Group of Five.

Here are the top five opponents the Cougars will face in the 2016 season.

[tabgroup][tab title=”Memphis”]

Leah Nash/The Cougar

In 2015, the University of Memphis Tigers surprised many by winning their first eight games, which included a 13-point victory against No. 13 University of Mississippi.

At 8-0, the team had an AAC Championship on their mind, but then they lost their next four games, including one against the Cougars, and their bowl game. The Tigers finished last year’s campaign at 9-4.

Memphis tried to rebound after losing QB Paxton Lynch to the NFL Draft, but a successor remains undetermined. With a loaded receiving corp and four returning running backs, the new QB should hit the ground running.

The Cougars will travel to Memphis on Nov. 25 for a rematch with the Tigers. This matchup meets all the criteria as a “trap game” for the Cougars: it will be the final game of the season, it’s against a lesser opponent and it will be the first road game in more than a month.

In this game, the Cougars need to score early, and often, to end the 2016 regular season with a victory and bring momentum into bowl season.

[/tab] [tab title=”Navy”]

Leah Nash/The Cougar

For 2016, the Navy Midshipmen look to replicate the success they had last season, which they ended with an 11-2 record.

The task will be arduous, nonetheless, as Baltimore Ravens drafted quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a Heisman Trophy candidate considered to be a top-five player in Navy’s football history. Graduation also meant two slotbacks, two fullbacks and five offensive linemen had leave the team.

Despite these losses and the challenges in seeking replacements for Navy’s triple-option offense, the team has always proven to be adaptable when roster turnovers occur.

Stopping the crafty triple option will be essential to avoid an upset at the hands of Navy this year. The Cougars had no problem stifling Navy’s offense in 2015, but with a revamped defense for this year, anything can happen.

Scoring should not be a problem for the Cougars in this game, but managing Navy’s possession time will be paramount to secure a win in Annapolis, Maryland on Oct. 8.

[/tab] [tab title=”Cincinnati”]

Leah Nash/The Cougar

If Head coach Tommy Tuberville has proven anything in his career, it’s that, under his guidance, a team always holds surprises.

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats finished 2015 with a mediocre 7-6 record that saw the team go 4-4 against conference opponents. With consistency being an issue all season, the team put together just one two-game win streak.

Returning senior QB Gunner Kiel and a slew of running backs should set the Bearcats up to have one of the better offenses in the conference. The team’s defense was one of the worst in the nation at stopping the run last season, expect improvements in 2016.

The Bearcats and Cougars will meet Sept. 15 in the first road game of the season for Houston.

The Bearcats’ defense could potentially be problematic. As mentioned, they have experience on their side and did a solid job last season of limiting the Cougars’ big plays. This game, similar to last season, will likely be close all the way through.

To win in Cincinnati, the Cougars need to diversify their offensive attack to keep the Bearcats’ defense guessing. Cougars also can’t allow Bearcats to get quick stops because their offense has the capability to score with ease.

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Leah Nash/The Cougar

The University of Louisville Cardinals have among the highest potential of any college football team in 2016.

The Cardinals 0-3 start to the 2015 season cast them from the national spotlight early on. This made fans fail to realize the team’s solid 8-5 finish that was capped off with a 27-21 victory over Texas A&M University in the Music City Bowl.

The team returns starters at every position, highlighted by sophomore QB Lamar Jackson, poising for a breakout season after proving to be a threat to any defense in the latter stages of 2015. The Cardinals will rely on experience and depth to wear teams down on both sides of the ball.

The Cougars have plenty of time to find their identity and plan for the Cardinals’ offensive scheme, seeing the match won’t be until Nov. 17. Both teams have a dynamic offense with a dual-threat quarterback and scrappy defense that swarms the ball.

The Cougars have the advantage of playing in front of the home fans, which will likely factor into deciding the outcome of the game. Keeping Jackson in the pocket and not giving him a running opportunity is essential to beating the Cardinals.

[/tab] [tab title=”Oklahoma”]

Leah Nash/The Cougar

The University of Oklahoma Sooners are a powerhouse in NCAA football year after year. It appears that 2016 will be no exception.

After suffering a heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Clemson University in the College Football Semi-Final game last season, the Sooners are widely considered a lock to return to the College Football Playoff in 2016.

QB Baker Mayfield returns for his senior year, following a season in which he threw 36 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. In the backfield, the Sooners are led by running back duo Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, whose size alone can overpower many opponents’ defense.

Where the team lacks in linebacker depth, they more than compensate with a skilled defensive line and capable secondary that Jordan Thomas, a Klein native, is headlining. The Sooners have all the makings of a team that could take home the National Championship Trophy.

When Cougars and Oklahoma meet Sept. 3 in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff, it will be one of the most important games in Cougar football history. The upset-minded Cougars will attempt to prove to the nation they belong in the Big 12 by knocking off the conference’s top team.

The Cougars must run the ball well because the Sooners’ secondary is loaded with athletic cornerbacks and safeties that can shut down any team’s passing game. If the Cougars can control the time of possession, they have a chance of escaping NRG Stadium with their first victory of the season.


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