With the football team finishing the regular season at 7-4, the Cougars now await their bowl game invitation. But those around the team are already thinking ahead to 2018.
Despite the loss of more than 20 seniors, the 2018 season is promising, as several notable starters will return on both sides of the ball, and returning players will gain full knowledge of head coach Major Applewhite’s playbook following his first full season.
Assistant sports editor Peter Scamardo
The 2017 team has struggled to remain consistent, never able to win more than two games in a row.
With the team finally selecting a starting quarterback in sophomore D’Eriq King, the Cougars next season will be able to work out whatever gaps remain in their offensive schemes. Even though the team’s leading receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar will graduate, King’s ability to throw the deep ball will lead to success from his receivers.
In terms of where they will finish in the conference, Central Florida still has to be favored to win it all given its current undefeated season. But expect the Cougars to contend — if not outright win — the conference’s West Division.
The Cougars’ losses to Tulsa and Tulane were flukes, and they choked against Memphis. But Memphis is losing its starting quarterback. All three of Houston’s conference losses are winnable next year. The real test will be SMU.
SMU will return its starting quarterback, ensuring consistency on offense despite possibly losing top two receivers to the NFL. The Houston vs. SMU game will decide the division champion and could finally give the Cougars a rival university.
Assistant sports editor Reagan Earnst
Although the AAC has produced formidable competition over the last three seasons, the top-heavy Group of Five conference will see a downswing next year. With that said, the Cougars will be placed in an ideal situation to once again win the conference and return to a New Year’s Six Bowl.
The AAC has been dominated by its Florida schools — Central Florida and South Florida — both of which will be turned on their heads next season.
Two seasons ago, undefeated Central Florida did not win a game, making its head coach, Scott Frost, one of the most highly touted young coaches in the nation. Frost is inevitably on his way out when a Power Five program comes calling.
Farther south, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers is set to pursue a career in the NFL when his eligibility expires next month, helping to water down the powerful AAC East Division.
Behind King’s arm and Oliver’s motor, the Cougars have as good a chance as any to compete for the AAC Championship.
With added experience and familiarity on both sides of the ball, Houston will finish with a 12-2 record and once again find success in the national spotlight.
Sports editor Frank Campos
The Cougars’ season was filled with plenty of cringeworthy moments, but it wasn’t all bad in 2017.
The most important factor for 2018 is the emergence of King as the starting quarterback and the continued dominance of sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver. As juniors next season, they will be leaders and playmakers for the Cougars.
Of course, it will be tough for Applewhite and his staff to replace players like Bonner and Dunbar on offense. On top of this, the defense will lose senior linebacker Matthew Adams and senior safety Garrett Davis. This may impact the team even more than the first year of a new head coach.
Looking at the nonconference schedule for next season: It will be nice to play Rice in the first game, but as we learned this year, not every team is as bad as Rice.
Weeks 2 and 3 will be tougher matchups for the Cougars as they face Arizona and Texas Tech. Although the Wildcats should be manageable, the Red Raiders will again be a force to reckon with and will most likely give the Cougars the first loss of the young season.
The AAC will again be tough to go through to make it to the conference championship game. Teams like Memphis and SMU will continue to be the Cougars’ biggest threats in 2018. I think the Cougars will likely finish with four losses, making it another lost season.