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Houston Cougars Will Be on the Prowl for Better Results in 2023

Justin Tijerina/Flickr

The Houston Cougars took a disappointing step back in 2022 after posting a 12-2 record (8-1 in the AAC) in 2021 and playing in the AAC championship game.

They posted an 8-5 record in 2022 with most of the playmakers from that 2021 team. So, the Cougars are looking to get a lot better this season.

Big Shoes to Fill at Quarterback

The Cougars lose 4,000+ yard quarterback Clayton Tune to the NFL. His replacement is projected starter Donovan Smith (transfer from Texas Tech). Smith passed for 1,505 yards, 12 TDs and 8 INTs for the Red Raiders. In addition, he added 7 rushing touchdowns.

He posted three games of 300+ yards passing against Houston, Texas, and Kansas State. Over that stretch he threw 6 TD passes and 5 INTs and added 3 rushing touchdowns.

At 6-5, 230 pounds, Smith is the prototypical size for an NFL Quarterback. We will see if he can thrive in head coach Dana Holgersen’s offense.

Houston Cougars Rushing Attack will be by Platoon

RB Alton McCaskill (961 yards, 16 rushing TDs in 2021) decided to enter the transfer portal and take his talents to Boulder, CO to play for Coach Prime Deion Sanders. He missed all of 2022 due to a knee injury suffered in spring practice.

Now the running game will fall on the shoulders of Stacy Sneed and Brandon Campbell. Sneed gained 501 yards rushing and scored 5 touchdowns. His high game of last season was 11 carries for 143 yards and 2 TDs (13-yard avg.) in a 43-36 win over Temple.

As a freshman, Campbell ran for 435 yards and 4 TDs.

Houston’s Wide Receivers: The Good Hands Guys

The wide receiver room loses Nathaniel “Tank” Dell to the NFL, but they are still talented. It consists of:

  • Matthew Golden: 38 catches, 584 yards, 7 TDs as a freshman. His high games were 5 catches for 105 and a TD vs SMU; and 8 catches for 127 yards and 2 scores vs East Carolina. Golden has been named preseason 1st Team All-Big-12 by Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine, 2023 Edition, vol.29.

  • Samuel Brown: 41 catches (2nd on the team behind Dell), 471 yards, 4 TDs. Caught nine passes for 116 yards vs. Memphis.

  • Joshua Cobbs (transfer from Wyoming): Led the Cowboys with 35 catches and 407 yards and 2 TDs.

  • Stephon Johnson (transfer from Oklahoma State): 17 catches, 293 yards and 2 TDs for the Cowboys.

  • Mikal-Harrison Pilot (Prep Recruit): All-purpose star out of Temple (HS) TX, scored 16 all-purpose touchdowns as a senior. He was the 12-6A Co-Offensive MVP.

  • Jonah Wilson (Prep Recruit): Wilson gained 1371 yards as a senior at Spring Dekaney High School.

Cougars Defense Loses Playmakers, But Talent Remains

The Houston defense will have three players who project to be leaders of the unit.

DL Nelson Ceaser recorded 36 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 INT, forced a fumble, returned a fumble 11 yards for a score, and blocked a kick. He will be an anchor for the D-Line.

LB David Ugwoegbu is a transfer from Oklahoma. He racked up 109 tackles for the Sooners. In addition, he recorded 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. He fills a position of need for the Cougars. Ugwoegbu recorded double-digit tackles in three consecutive games. He was named honorable mention All-Big 12.

DB A.J. Haulcy transferred in from New Mexico, where he was selected 2nd team All-Mountain West and Freshman All-American by Pro Football Focus. He posted 87 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles. Haulcy recorded 24 tackles vs Fresno State and 10 tackles vs LSU.

One of the Toughest Schedules in the FBS

Houston begins play in the Big 12 this season, and the schedule is unkind. It is the 6th toughest schedule in the FBS, and their opponents have a combined 61.5% winning percentage. But they do have seven home games: UTSA, TCU, Sam Houston, West Virginia, Texas, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State.

They have road games at Rice (but it is still in Houston), at Texas Tech, at Kansas State, at Baylor, and they end the season at UCF.

If the Cougars defense can step up this season, and the offensive talent produces like it should, the Cougars will be prowling and growling their way to bigger and better things in 2023.



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