Bird Brain: Houston edition

Hi folks,

The long time readers around here probably know me but for the rest of the crowd, allow me a quick introduction. Name’s Jack, and I come from one of the Texas State sites a couple of years ago. Early on I predicted success for the fledgling Roadrunner program from afar and made some internet friends with fans and bloggers from my hometown of San Antonio. I was at the first Runner game against Northeastern Oklahoma with 56,000 of my drunkest friends and covered the WAC extensively in her last football season. It’s been a bit but Adam has graciously allowed me to contribute to Cooler Chronicles. I’ll write mostly about UTSA, but I‘m pretty familiar with CUSA and will pop in on league action as well. I live in Fort Worth and bitch about not having a Blanco Cafe or a Bill Miller’s nearby quite a bit. That said, let’s get started.

The Opponent

Late last September, Houston rolled into the Alamodome at 3-0 and took away a 59-28 pasting of the Birds. The Cougs, including that victory, jumped out to a 7-1 start blemished by a one-point loss to BYU. They lost some of that new car smell in consecutive losses to Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida, Charlie Strong’s Louisville squad, and Cincinnati before thumping SMU at home and closing out with a loss to Vandy of the SEC in the BBVA Compass Bowl at Birmingham. A final record of 8-5 showed a three game improvement over the 2012 season, and the program is 49-29 over the last six seasons.

Their choice in opening opponent was sound when this contract was signed in 2010, pre AEIOU (and sometimes Y) Stadium. Last season, they played home games at an NFL stadium and an MLS pitch/field thingie. On paper, it’s a contest against a squad of toddlers they ran by 30 at their place last season. That said, they probably wish they would have signed Lamar or SFA instead of a potential gang-of-five conference titlest. I expect this year’s edition to be a much closer contest, despite the excitement of breaking in a new stadium and permanent home in the Third Ward.

I’m old enough to remember the Cougars trotting out Andre Ware, David Klingler, and a back named Clarence Weatherspoon that had a jersey nameplate that read “C. SPOON”. Coach June is busking for donations now at Southern Methodist, UH’s most convenient rival in the American. While there’s no Heisman to be had for the AAC’s third to fourth best team this upcoming season, Cougar High’s offense has a couple of names worth noting – John O’Korn and Deonte Greenberry. Greenberry will probably be as comfortable playing at whatever the Texans renamed their stadium as the new place UH built next season, and O’Korn – as a true freshman – threw for over 300 yards three times last season and 28 TDs. He may need his untaken redshirt if a completely remodeled offensive line cannot keep him upright. Houston lost four starters from last season up front. Johnny O’Ffense doesn’t need a lot of time to get the ball to Greenberry, or senior Daniel Spencer and Shane Ros – but he still got put on his ass 25 times last season for a loss with a better line that he seems to have now. All universe return man Demarcus Ayers should see some more time on offense as well.

Houston has shored up an already impressive AAC defense – ranked 20th nationally in giving up just 21.8 points per game – with some transfers and a lot of guys with game experience. UH returns nine starters on defense and also gets a bonus year out of 2013 Texas A&M defensive MVP Gavin Stansbury, a defensive end enrolled in graduate school. If head coach Tony Levine can unearth a couple of competent corners and a nickelback, Houston could be looking at a run toward the top of the American. Look for Lee Hightower, William Jackson, and Turon Walker to fill those holes initially.

Last season, UTSA and the Cougars were tied 21-all at the half before a Houston blitzkrieg in the second (38-7!) blew the roof off of the Alamodome. The Cougars scored on the ground, through the air, off a blocked field goal, and an interception return in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter to transform a close game into the 59-28 final. They return a battle hardened QB that was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, one of the most dangerous returners in the nation, and an all-universe wideout looking for at least a 100 catch season. Houston has to be smarting after their late season collapse, and I doubt this game is going to be overlooked on their schedule.

Houston doesn’t possess a great defense, merely a pretty good unit more than capable of making the beginning of the UTSA Tucker Carter era a painful one. Two things that I’m pretty sure of are that UH is not 30+ points better than UTSA and that the seasoned Runner defense is plenty capable of giving O’Korn a very long day at the office. I think this game is going to be very different than the last one – defense and special teams will be on point while each offense takes a bit to settle in and get comfortable. This is an absolutely winnable game for UTSA, despite the name-your-favorite excuse for the fourth year program to grab their ankles. I see a big upset in their future, but it’s not this game.

My prediction: Houston 28, UTSA 24

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