Central Florida was the only Group of Five team ranked in the 2019 preseason AP Poll, but conference foe Houston has the best chance at post season glory.
The Cougars will enter the 2019 season outside the top-25 for a third-straight year, but are the nation’s wild card. The team has an offensive guru for a coach in Dana Holgorsen. The area is a fertile recruiting ground for Power Five blue-blood programs and there’s talent on the roster to deliver results.
Not to mention the Cougars have the schedule to contend for a for a run at the College Football Playoff. Houston opens the season against No. 4 Oklahoma, plays No. 23 Washington State two weeks later and has a November showdown with No. 17 Central Florida.
If the Cougars can run the table they’ll definitely be a thorn in the Playoff Committee’s side. It only will happen if Oklahoma, Washington State and Central Florida have Houston as its’ only loss of the season. Still, there will be some argument even if those teams lose a second game, but remain ranked throughout the year.
Holgorsen has the best quarterback in the AAC in senior D’Eriq King. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards last season, 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The wide receiver corp is arguably the best in the league. Projected starters Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin and Courtney combined for a jaw-dropping, 150 receptions, 2,249 receiving yards and 24 touchdown catches last season.
The Cougars led the AAC in scoring and passing offense, averaging nearly 44 points and 295 yards per game. There’s also three starters on the offensive line, including two seniors. Senior rusher Patrick Carr averaged 5.7 yards per carry to go along with 862 on the ground. There’s enough experience, production and leadership on offense for Houston to light up the scoreboard on any opponent on its’ schedule.
Improving on the defensive side of the ball will be the challenge for Holgorsen. The unit was awful last season, allowing 37.2 points per game and finished 127th in the FBS in total defense. Holgorsen never had an elite defense during his eight-year tenure with West Virginia.
However, the fertile recruiting base of the Houston area produce better athletes than in Morgantown. Even after teams like Texas and LSU cherry pick the best ones. No Ed Oliver this time around to be a distraction to the team. Junior safety Gleason Sprewell will need to set the tone every game for the Cougars’ defense. He had 81 total stops last season and picked off three passes.
Everything starts in week one against Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners will be looking for payback after the Cougars upset them in 2016’s season-opener. A win against Oklahoma will catapult Houston into likely the top-10 and from there it should control its’ own destiny. You can pencil in Washington State to be ranked and undefeated when the Cougars visit the Cougars in week three.
If Houston wins both of those games against ranked Power Five competition, takes down Central Florida, look out. All the Cougars will need to do is navigate through the rest of the AAC gauntlet unscathed and they will be knocking on the door of the Playoffs.
That’s a big if, but if it does happen it would be hard to put a two-loss Power Five team over an undefeated Houston and will officially launch an all-out discussion for an eight-team Playoff format.