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Key points from UH’s first Big 12 Media Day

Dana Holgorsen and four UH players spoke to the media extensively about the team’s upcoming Big 12 debut. | Anh Le/The Cougar

ARLINGTON — UH made its first appearance at a Big 12 event as head football coach Dana Holgorsen and four players spent Wednesday fielding questions at the conference’s annual media day at the AT&T Stadium.

It was a high-energy occasion that was buzzing with excitement — a harbinger of the type of environment Houston will be competing in for the foreseeable future.

“It’s exciting to be the new guy again,” said Holgorsen, who previously made the jump to the Big 12 as head coach at West Virginia. “We’re personally excited to be back. This is a special deal.”

A lot was discussed, but here are some of the most important topics.

QB updates

The most pressing question heading into the Cougars’ debut season in the Big 12 is who will be starting quarterback in September. With long-time starter Clayton Tune in the NFL, junior Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith and last year’s backup sophomore Lucas Coley are currently competing for the starting spot.

As of right now, Holgorsen said that Smith has an edge due to his experience of playing 21 games for the Red Raiders. However, the head coach is in no rush to name a starter due to a conversation he had with UH’s all-time leading passer Case Keenum.

“I asked him the importance of when you name a starter. And he goes, ‘I wouldn’t,'” Holgorsen said. “Just let them compete, it makes them better.  And then it should take care of itself.”

When senior offensive lineman Jack Freeman IV was asked, he sang the praises of both signal callers.

“(Donovan’s) done a great job ever since he got here, he’s understood his role,” Freeman said. “Lucas was able to really, like, see what it is to be a leader, be a good captain under Clayton.”

New and old faces

The Cougars will have 42 new scholarship players heading into training camp. With the departures of transfers such as running back Alton McCaskill, offensive lineman Cam’Ron Johnson, and four NFL Draft picks, there is no time to waste for UH to get its new arrivals up to speed.

According to Holgorsen, perhaps the biggest challenge leading up to this season in the Big 12 is working with the newbies under the NCAA’s policies enacted in 2021 that limited the amount of contact in preseason practices.

“I think camp is the most important that it’s been,” Holgorsen said. “The NFL, you know, they practice I think, nine times prior to preseason game number one, but they also have mini camps. We don’t have any camps.”

Nevertheless, Holgorsen is confident in the players that are returning, particularly in the wide receivers’ room. The group returning starters Matthew Golden, Joseph Manjack IV and Samuel Brown and highly-touted recruits such as Mikal Harrison-Pilot.

Despite losing the nation’s leader in receiving yards in Tank Dell, the head coach expects the group to have a strong season.

“That’s the one thing I’m pretty comfortable with,” Holgorsen said. “It’s a lot of competition, you know, and a lot of very talented players that quite frankly we wouldn’t have got if it wasn’t for the Big 12.”

Time to play

With Houston now finally in the Big 12, the time of reckoning is now approaching for UH to prove that it belongs in the Power 5.

Having a head coach in Holgorsen who has made the transition to the conference before will help, and so will the two years of preparation and recruiting leading up to the move. However, Holgorsen says that those aids go out the window as soon as the season starts.

“Those advantages stop now,” Holgorsen said. “Because everybody else we’re playing has Big 12 experience. They’ve been there and they’ve done that.”

For now, it is just a matter of working to catch up to that elite competition.

“(We) just couldn’t be more thrilled with the situation that we’re in,” Holgorsen said. “Still a lot of work to be done, a lot of work ahead of us. We understand that and we’re excited about it.”

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