New quarterback, new conference, new stadium, it's all happening for the Cougars. Can the Cougs replicate and build on the success they had in the AAC in 2013? Can their Sophomore quarterback avoid the sophomore slump? Will the toilets in the new stadium flush? We are about to find out.
The questions that need answering...
Who fill the holes on the O-line?
Houston returns 17 starters so holes are hard to find at times, however the offensive line, tackle in particular is one of them. DeAnthony Sims was voted 2nd Team All AAC in 2013. He departs as does his primary backup. This was coupled with the loss of Zach Johnson, the starting right tackle to an ACL injury in the spring. The Cougars also lose their starting left guard and quality depth.
UH has several options, the simplest would be moving Rowdy Harper back to one of the tackle spots full time. Harper played the position in 2013 off and on and was the full time left tackle in 2012. In 2011 Harper was a freshman All-American selection at tackle. He's played both left and right tackle and for as much as the staff might envision him in the interior the Cougars look to need him to move back outside for 2014.
After that the options get less cut and dried. The Cougars have a bevy of players that might fit in somewhere including Damien Paris, Josh Thomas, Emeka Okafor, or Alex Cooper. Cooper is a former tightend making the move to tackle. Paris redshirted in 2013 after transferring in from junior college. Thomas, a big redshirt freshman from Evangel Christian was a 3-star recruit out of high school in Louisiana. Okafor is in the mix at left guard, though he has played up and down the line.
Former Oklahoma State lineman Mike Mustafa could fill in should Harper move to a tackle position. Mustafa is making the transition from the defensive side of the ball and saw reps backing up Harper in the spring.
The Cougs also welcome three transfers, one from Hawaii, Ben Dew, and two from the state of Oklahoma, Travis Cross from Oklahoma State and Kyle Mars from OU. Dew is available to play guard now for U of H. Cross is available immediately as well after graduating from OSU. He's got experience at guard and center. Mars may be the more interesting of the two. At 6-5 321 pounds, he was a 4-star recruit out of Brandeis in San Antonio who's seen action at tackle for the Sooners. Mars, as of now, will have to sit out 2014 however the Cougars are appealing that decision.
Regardless of who plays where and how, the UH offensive line will be buoyed by the return of Bryce Redman, a senior Rimington award candidate with 21 starts under his belt. He'll be a steady hand directing traffic for the Cougars while they sort out the flanks.
How does John O'Korn develop?
John O'Korn played well for a freshman last year, but his production tailed off dramatically in the second half of the season.
O'Korn was the primary signal caller by Game 2, and he took to the job well, completing 24-for-36 for 312 yards, four touchdowns, UTSA. He followed that up with a great game against Rutgers 24-for-30 for 364 yards, five touchdowns. His performances against USF and BYU were also solid if not upgraded on a freshman curve.
His numbers against the likes of UCF, Louisville, and Cincinnatti are far more pedestrian.
When O'Korn played better teams he played worse. Not unexpected, but not ideal. The word coming out of spring ball was focused on development and maturity. That's all well and good until the games get real and the defenses get to tackle.
It's not at all unusual for a freshman to struggle at the next level, it's more of a developmental milestone. O'Korn showed the ability to make all the throws and then some. Now he just has to get comfortable and let the game slow down and come to him.
Billy Cosh, a senior transfer from Kansas State came into the mix in the spring as well. If O'Korn struggles, Cosh may get the nod.
Who plays corner?
Zachary McMillan and Thomas Bates, starting corners in 2013 are both gone. Who fills their shoes? Great question, glad you asked.
Junior William Jackson does return, he logged 13 games and 31 tackles in 2013. Other help may come in the form of Boise State transfer Lee Hightower and Utah transfer Tyler White. Hightower may be a better fit at safety given his size but regardless, he's played quite a bit. White is a local kid from Missouri City who walked on at Utah.
The Cougars also brought in 5 freshman to play in the defensive backfield, look for a few of those guys to step in.
Who's that guy?
Greg Ward Jr. So. WR 5-10 175 Tyler (John Tyler)
Ward sophomore out of Tyler makes a move from quarterback to wideout next year. That's not to say that Ward wasn't effective as a signal caller, but he'll get on the field more as a wide receiver.
How good of an athlete is Ward? Last season he played quarterback, wide receiver and returned punts for the Cougs. What you don't punt Greg?
Ward was a nice change of pace quarterback last year and showed that he is a plus athlete who needs/deserves touches. O'Korn's development will dictate how the Cougars use Ward in 2014. They're hoping that O'Korn gives them the chance to let Ward find a comfort zone at receiver.