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With 17 Returning Starters, Houston is a Contender in the AAC

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Houston is coming off an outstanding inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) wherein the Cougars finished 8-5, including going 5-3 in conference play.  Entering its second year in the AAC , the Cougars welcome back seventeen starters and possess the most explosive offense in the conference.

Houston’s offense revolves around returning quarterback John O’Korn, who threw for 3.117 yards (58.1%; 28-10 ratio) last season and should eclipse those numbers in 2014.  O’Korn is backed up by Greg Ward, who was used primarily in the Wildcat last season before becoming a wide receiver.  O’Korn finds consistency in the backfield as all four running back from last year return, including Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson.

The strength of Houston’s offense rests with its wide receiving unit that rivals any group in college football.  Deontay Greenberry, the team’s first 5-star recruit who originally committed to Notre Dame, returns with Daniel Spencer. Greenberry led the team with 1,202 yards (14.7), while Spencer finished second with 768 yards (14.8). The Cougars initially entered the summer with 75 career starts returning on its offensive line, but right tackle Zach Johnson suffered an ACL in the spring and is likely to miss the season.  The offensive line is bolstered by the arrival of Hawaii transfer Ben Dew, who made five starts at right guard for the Rainbows last season.

While the Cougars possess the AAC’s best offense, they also take the field with a very good defense.  The linebacking corp. welcomes back every key contributor from last year, including Derrick Mathews (1st Team AAC), Efrem Oliphant (#1 tackler with 134) and LSU transfer Trevon Randle.  Houston not only has the best linebacking unit in the conference, but the Cougars also have one of the best units in all of college football.  Houston’s entire 3-deep returns from last year’s defensive line, including Trevor Harris and Joey Mbu.

Houston’s secondary surprised most college football observers last year when it grabbed 25 interceptions and ended ranked #1 in turnover margin (+25).  The loss of both Zack McMillian (2nd Team AAC) and Thomas Bates certainly hurts, but the secondary still returns 30 starts from 2013, including Trevon Stewart (2nd Team AAC), Adrian McDonald (3rd Team AAC) and Boise State transfer Lee Hightower. Opposing quarterbacks are going to have a difficult time throwing into this coverage unit.

Continuity on the sidelines also benefits Houston as head coach Tony Levine enters his third season, while offensive coordinator Travis Bush and defensive coordinator David Gibbs both enter their second season with the team. Houston enters the 2014-2015 campaign with excellent talent consisting of seventeen returning starters and one of the most prolific attacks in the country.  The Cougars are legitimate AAC contenders and controls its own destiny with games against Cincinnati and Central Florida.

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