It's interesting to note that, with the idea of an undefeated, BCS-busting season being tossed about, the Cougars truly are attempting something unprecedented. If Houston becomes the latest school from a non-Automatic Qualifying conference to bust the BCS, it will be able to claim the most difficult non-conference slate of any school ever to do so. Because no school has ever busted the BCS with...
-two non-conference road games against bowl teams from AQ conferences,
-three AQ opponents, and two of those three games on the road, or
-an SEC team on the schedule.
Still, even many college football experts outside of the city of Houston believe an undefeated season isn't outside of the realm of possibility. Today, SB Nation Houston brings you the five toughest challenges on Houston's schedule.
I am a little bit hesitant to make a post like this, given that Houston proved last year that anybody can lose to anybody (UTEP, UCF) on any given day. So with the disclaimer that the Cougars can't afford to overlook anybody on the schedule, here are the games that Houston could conceivably lose, even if the Cougars bring their A-game...and why they won't lose any of them.
5. SMU Mustangs (road game, Oct. 23)
The Mustangs relied more heavily on their run game a year ago than many people realize, so the loss of stud running back Shawnbrey McNeal will hurt. Top receiver Emmanuel Sanders departs, as well, and the secondary is inexperienced. Finally, for all of Houston's nail-biting victories a year ago, SMU actually didn't give Houston much trouble. Still, would you bet heavily against a team June Jones has now had three years to turn around?
Why Houston will win: Jones is a good coach, but so is Kevin Sumlin. And Houston has a distinct edge at quarterback, running back, receivers, offensive line, and secondary. (And linebackers are, at best, a push for the Mustangs.) Talent wins out, and the Cougars grab a victory.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs (home game, Oct. 9)
This match-up concludes a four-game series, dating back to 2003, and the Cougars actually have the opportunity to sweep all four games. Still, it's been a tightly contested series, including Houston's 31-24 victory in Starkville last year. While the Bulldogs will be breaking in new starters at quarterback and running back, I'm impressed with what Dan Mullen is doing with the program, especially the way he's brought in some beasts on the line. If Houston's play in the trenches isn't up to par, their sizable advantage at the skill positions won't matter.
Why Houston will win: Because Houston has the talent and size on the lines to surprise some people, and its advantage at the skill position is a big one. Houston's already beaten this team three times, with far less talented squads than the one MSU will face this year. Plus, Houston just doesn't lose at the Rob.
3. UCLA Bruins (road game, Sept. 18)
Earlier this summer, the Bruins would have been higher on this list, but it's been a rough offseason, especially on the offensive line. Three starters from that group will not be available, at least through the Houston game, due to a Mormon mission, a fractured ankle, and an academic casualty. Starting QB Kevin Prince is battling injuries, as well. Still, an extremely talented secondary, led by first team All-American safety Rahim Moore, could give Houston some trouble, and getting a win in the Rose Bowl won't be easy.
Why Houston will win: The Bruins return just two starters in the front seven on defense, and Houston will score its points. I just don't see the UCLA offense keeping up.
2. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (road game, Nov. 20)
I could have put Central Florida here, given that the Knights did beat Houston last year, and are the favorites in the East Division. But the Coogs do get UCF at the Rob, and have to travel to Hattiesburg, and ultimately I think Southern Miss is actually the East's best team. Quarterback Austin Davis returns after an injury cut short a spectacular sophomore season, Kendrick Hardy will soften the loss of Damion Fletcher at running back, DeAndre Brown, if he gets his head screwed on straight, is among the most talented receivers in the conference, and the Golden Eagles have C-USA's best defense. The big question mark is the offensive line, which returns just one starter. But if Houston's defensive line, which is a question mark in its own right, can't get any penetration, it could be a very long game for the Cougars.
Why Houston will win: USM's defense was pretty good last year, and the Cougars scored 50 points on that group. Houston's new, attacking defensive philosophy will take advantage the weak Golden Eagle offensive line, and make enough big plays to secure a victory.
1. Texas Tech Red Raiders (road game, Nov. 27)
It took everything the Cougars had to pull out a 29-28 victory at Robertson Stadium a year ago, and this year they must travel up to Lubbock, where the Red Raiders have won 20 of their last 22 games, including victories over No. 3 Oklahoma ('07), No. 1 Texas ('08) and No. 8 Oklahoma State ('08). The Red Raiders are long on offensive skill players, but short on experience on the offensive line. But the biggest question for the Tech offense will be how it handles the transition from head coach Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville was a fine coach at Auburn, but to say that the Red Raiders are about to experience a change in philosophies would be an understatement. The hire of Neal Brown as offensive coordinator seems to indicate that Tech will stick with the spread offense, but between Tuberville and Brown, there are only four years of coaching experience in a spread offense, and they all belong to Brown. The defense has to replace four starters in the front seven, but is not an untalented group.
Why Houston will win: Tuberville and Brown aren't the offensive minds that Leach was, so the Tech offense will take a step back, and the Red Raider defense won't hold Houston to 29 points again.