Houston hopes to bounce back

Drawing of the new University of Houston football stadium set to open in 2014.

Kristie Rieken

HOUSTON — Houston will certainly remain the pass-heavy team they’ve been in recent years as the Cougars try to bounce back from a disappointing first season under coach Tony Levine.

The question is who will run that offense? Five quarterbacks are competing to take the job.

The group is led by junior David Piland, who started 10 games last season and finished with 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It was his second season starting for the Cougars after he took over in 2010 when Case Keenum suffered a season-ending injury before redshirting in 2011.

He was competing for the job with junior college transfer Billy Cosh, sophomore Bram Kohlhausen and freshmen Greg Ward from Tyler and John O’Korn.

Levine said Piland will be the starter with O’Korn, the highly touted quarterback from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas. Levine said both will play in the openr.

Cosh is also interesting option after leading Butler Community College to a junior college national championship last season. He threw for 2,856 yards with 25 touchdowns last season.

O’Korn also has a winning pedigree after leading his high school to a Florida state championship last season with 2,522 yards passing and 22 touchdowns and 576 yards rushing and 15 more scores.

“We’ve got five young men who are extremely talented,” Levine said. “Some have more experience than others. They all come from different backgrounds in terms of whether they’re a junior college, local, or freshmen so everybody is in the mix. Everybody is going to have an opportunity.”

Five things to know about Houston:

THEY’RE HOMELESS: The Cougars demolished their former home, the dilapidated 70-year-old Robertson Stadium late last year to begin construction on a new $105 million stadium set to open for the 2014 season. So this season they’ll have to play their home games in a several different stadiums around Houston. Their main location will be Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. They’ll play five games there, one at BBVA Compass Stadium where the MLS Houston Dynamo play and one at Rice Stadium.

NEW CONFERENCE: The Cougars move from Conference-USA to the American Athletic Conference this season. Houston’s parting with C-USA was bittersweet after having so much success in their old league, appearing in the conference championship game three times since 2006. The move keeps them from competing with in-town rival Rice in conference play, but they’ll still face the Owls in a non-conference game on Sept. 21.

THAT’S A LOT OF TACKLES: The defense returns two starters who each piled up 126 tackles in 2012 in linebacker Derrick Mathews and safety Trevon Stewart. Matthews is a junior who was third in C-USA last season with 17 tackles for losses and also forced two fumbles and broke up five passes. Stewart’s 126 tackles were the most in the nation for a freshman, and he had an interception, a sack and broke up seven passes.

WHAT A LEG: The Cougars have one of the best punters in the nation in Richie Leone. Leone has been a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s top punter two years in a row. He was named C-USA’s co-special teams most valuable player last season after tying a Houston single-season record with a 45.5 yards a punt average. He led the league with 20 punts of more than 50 yards and had four longer than 60 yards. He booted a career-long punt of 77 yards against Louisiana Tech.

EXPERIENCED OFFENSE: The Cougars return 14 starters from last year’s team and 10 of them are on the offense. That’s good news for a unit that averaged 32.4 points and 480 yards last year. Their 480 yards a game was 15th in the nation and their 328 yards passing a game ranked 11th in the country.


Predict finish in the American: 6th.

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