Sports

American Athletic Conference opponent preview: Houston

In the first part of a series, we take a look at new football opponents.

Temple is a founding member of The American Athletic Conference. Since the Owls are playing in a new conference with new opponents, The Temple News will be taking a look at the new rivals of the football team and providing some important facts that Temple fans should know about the new conference opponents. First up: the University of Houston Cougars.

The University of Houston is located in the eponymous Texas city – 1,551 miles away from Temple’s main campus. Houston had an on-campus stadium called Robertson Stadium until last season. It was demolished in December 2012 and will be the location of a new stadium beginning in 2014. In the interim, the Cougars will play at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

The football program was founded in 1946 as a member of the Lone Star Conference. Before joining the American, Houston was a member of Conference USA from 1996 to 2013. The Cougars have a lifetime record of 376-321-14, good for a .539 winning percentage.

Temple has played Houston twice. In 1987, Houston easily defeated Temple 37-7. However, that game was forfeited by Houston after it was discovered that Cougars safety Randy Thornton dropped classes mid-semester without signing up for new ones. Therefore, he did not meet the minimum credit requirement by the Southwest Conference (Houston’s conference at the time) and the NCAA. Despite Houston’s forfeit, both Houston and Temple still count the game as a win in the school’s official records. Houston got revenge in 1989, blowing out Temple for a 65-7 victory.

Houston is 41-24 over the past five years. Its current head coach is Tony Levine, who has a 6-7 overall record and is going into his second full season. Levine was the special teams coordinator under former coach Kevin Sumlin from 2008 to 2011. Sumlin left Houston to coach at Texas A&M before the 2012 Ticket City Bowl against Penn State, and Levine took over the head job and has stayed there.

The Cougars finished 5-7 in 2012, a rebuilding year after the loss of star quarterback Case Keenum. It was Levine’s first full year as a head coach. Houston had the 11th best passing offense in the nation last year and 15th best total offense – no team in The American was better than that. However, Houston was as bad on defense as they were good on offense – no American team allowed more yards per game than the Cougars did last year, and only Tulane (who isn’t joining the conference until 2014) allowed more points per game.

One Houston player to watch is redshirt junior quarterback David Piland. Piland burst onto the scene in 2010, when he became the starter after Keenum tore his ACL and was out for the season. In his true freshman year, Piland threw for 2641 yards with a completion percentage of 58.3, 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Keenum came back healthy in 2011, and Piland redshirted the year. In 2012, Piland again took over the reigns of the offense, throwing for 2929 yards with a completion percentage of 57.1, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Piland’s numbers haven’t been bad, and he led a top-15 offense last season, but he will need to become more efficient if he is to lead Houston to a winning record – the Cougars ended up 5-7 both years he started.

Another Cougar to keep an eye on is redshirt sophomore running back Kenneth Farrow. After redshirting in 2011, Farrow put up good numbers in his freshmen year, rushing for 466 yards and two touchdowns while getting 5.4 yards per carry. He played in all 12 games, but was the clear backup to junior Charles Sims. Sims suddenly decided to transfer to West Virginia for his final year of eligibility, giving Farrow the inside track to grab the starting role. Sims scored 14 touchdowns last year, including 11 on the ground, so Farrow needs to step up to replace Sims’ production.

On defense, a player to watch is redshirt senior linebacker George Bamfo. Bamfo is finally getting a chance to shine. After redshirting in 2009, he has played in most games, albeit on special teams or in a backup role. He has totaled 36 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his career thus far. His best game was in a 56-3 win against East Carolina in 2011, when he racked up seven solo tackles and three sacks. Bamfo has only started one game in his career, but that is likely to change in 2013. Linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves has said that Bamfo outplayed his competition at weakside linebacker, including LSU transfer Trevon Randle, and is the leader in the clubhouse to start this season. Houston needs to improve on defense, ranking 112th (13th from the bottom) in points allowed and 118th (7th from the bottom) in yards allowed in 2012. A breakout year by Bamfo could help the Cougars improve.

Houston has a few notable alumni. One of them is former quarterback Andre Ware. Ware was on the team from 1987 to 1989, and was the starting quarterback for the aforementioned 65-7 shellacking Temple received at the hands of the Cougars in 1989. He finished the season with 4699 passing yards, 46 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Ware won the Heisman Trophy that year, and went on to be picked seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1990 NFL Draft. He never caught on in the pros, bouncing around between the NFL, CFL and NFL Europe. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, and is now a member of the Houston Texans’ broadcast team.

Another former Cougar is well known among Philadelphians. Quarterback Kevin Kolb was a four-year starter at Houston from 2003 to 2006, being the first true freshman to start a season opener in school history. He finished his career with 12,964 passing yards, 85 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions. He led Houston to three bowl games, losing all of them. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, eventually traded to the Arizona Cardinals, and is now a member of the Buffalo Bills.

The most accomplished Houston football player ever may be Case Keenum. Keenum was at Houston for a whopping six years (from 2006 to 2011), because he redshirted in 2006 and was granted an extra year after tearing his ACL early in the 2010 season. The extra time paid off for Keenum, as he is now the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions. Keenum took the Cougars to four bowl games, winning two. He is now on the Houston Texans’ practice squad.

Houston will take on Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, September 7 at noon.

Evan Cross can be reached at evan.cross@temple.edu or on Twitter @EvanCross.

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