A new era is underway in Houston with the hiring of head coach Tony Levine. Deeply familiar with the landscape surrounding the budding national football program, Levine spent four productive seasons as an assistant coach (including the final two years as assistant head coach) and wasted little time recruiting a talented staff to join him for his first full season at UH.
It was a historic campaign for the Cougars in 2011. Record-breaking offensive numbers stole the headlines and a late-season flirtation with perfection will live in the memories of Cougars fans for decades to come. While a resounding 30-14 win over No. 22 Penn State in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl will be the “icing” for the UH faithful, the foundation laid by Levine and his staff in a short period of time has fueled an off-season of excitement for his first full year directing the program that he is so proud to call “home”. Gone are familiar names like Keenum, Edwards, Brown and Carrier, but the cupboard is far from bare. In fact one of the most intriguing aspects of spring practice for Houston is that Levine immediate came in and created a clean slate for his club. Each starting spot must be re-earned. If you notice the spring depth chart (Page 11), each position is left blank, creating the type of early competition needed for a program to continue its ascent up the college football hierarchy.
A Look At The Coaching Staff
Already 1-0 as a head coach following the bowl victory in Dallas, Levine stocked his coaching staff with Texas products, familiar with the brand of football that has become synonymous with Houston. Offensively his staff has three former offensive coordinators, two of which have called plays for the Air Raid. Mike Nesbitt, who directed some of the country’s top offensive attacks at Stephen F. Austin, will lead the UH Air Raid in 2012. The Lumberjacks passed and ran with incredible efficiency last year and Nesbitt gives UH its most experienced play-caller in years.
Lee Hays, formerly the offensive coordinator at Baylor when the Bears ran the Air Raid, will coach the offensive line and spent time as a staff assistant at Houston in 2010.
Travis Bush will coach running backs and came to Houston after serving as the offensive coordinator at UTSA, a club now in the Western Athletic Conference.
Houston also welcomed home former receiving standout Brandon Middleton, who will coach the outside receivers next season after a stint playing in the National Football League.
Coaching the inside receivers and coordinating the special teams will be Jamie Christian. The veteran assistant spent time running the Air Raid at Arizona State and has been one of the country’s top recruiters throughout his tenure.
Defensively names like Jamie Bryant, Zac Spavital and Carlton Hall are back. Bryant will be the club’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, while Spavital will coach the secondary and coordinate the UH recruiting. Hall will continue to mentor the defensive line, along with another Houston newcomer, Ricky Logo, who was the defensive line coach for a pair of NFL Pro Bowlers, Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware, at Troy University.
A Look At The Offense
Coaches love competition and there will plenty of competition for spots on the offensive depth chart this spring. Five starters are back from last season’s record-breaking group, all-five of which were key figures associated with an explosive running game.
Sure Houston made headlines for its passing productivity, but the club also ran for more than 2,000 yards and that production is anchored by the return of four offensive line starters and First Team All-Conference USA running back Charles Sims.
Houston was a rarity in college football in 2011, starting the same offensive line for all 14 games and four of those five starters are back in 2012, although competition will be stiff. The most highly-touted of those returners is left tackle Jacolby Ashworth. Now entering his senior at left tackle, Ashworth earned Second Team All-Conference USA honors last year and is one of the more experienced pass-protectors in college football. A native of Lufkin, Texas, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder has 29 career starts in 30 career games and is likely a preseason All-C-USA pick in 2012.
DeAnthony Sims will provide competition for Ashworth at the position and was solid in action as a redshirt sophomore in 2011.
Rowdy Harper is back at right tackle and made 14 starts as a redshirt freshman. The Freshman All-America selection improved steadily as a first-year player and should be even better in his third season with the program. Competing with Harper will be junior Josh McNeill, who brings very good size (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) to the position.
Kevin Forsch is making a move to center this year in place of the graduated Chris Thompson. An athletic, heady player, Forsch was an honorable mention all-conference pick at right guard in 2011 and should fit in nicely in the middle of the UH offensive front. Bryce Redman is slated to compete with Forsch and saw time as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations.
Ty Cloud and Emeka Okafor will be two contenders at guard this spring. Cloud started 14 games at the left guard spot, while Okafor, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound sophomore, played as a true freshman. Austin Lunsford will add depth along the line after starting his career at defensive tackle and Ralph Oragwu is back and should be ready to compete for extended time in 2012.
Running back will be another area of strength for Houston in 2012. Sims is back after racking up 821 yards rushing on just 110 carries a year ago. The 206-pound speedster ranked No. 3 nationally with 7.5 yards per rush and tied for the team lead with nine rushing scores. He is also a potent pass-catcher out of the backfield and made 51 receptions for 575 yards and four TDs.
Braxton Welford played in 14 games last season and will help provide quality depth at the position. Welford had 21 carries for 83 yards and a score last year and played behind one of the most effective tailback trios in school history.
The Cougars also have a young, talented group of running backs entering the program and should have plenty of options once again after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and 33 scores in 2011.
Perhaps the most hotly-contested competition will be at receiver where UH welcomes in four new starters. The Cougars are notorious for turning out quality pass-catchers and while this group will be young, they are both talented and quick.
Houston lost the services of its all-time receptions leader (Tyron Carrier, 320 rec.) and yardage leader (Patrick Edwards, 4,507 yards) and also another first team all-league performer (Justin Johnson), but welcome in a new wave of play makers. Ronnie Williams and Dewayne Peace each made starts in 2011 and Williams had a great effort in the TicketCity Bowl making a career high six catches for 58 yards against a stout Penn State defense. Williams has good size (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) and speed and made a number of important catches in the bowl victory after Carrier left with an injury.
Peace, a junior college transfer with two years of eligibility remaining, should be ready for increased playing time this season and had 13 catches in limited action due to the UH depth.
Opposing defenses will also see more of true sophomores Daniel Spencer and Mark Roberts. Spencer found the end zone twice in wins against Marshall and UAB, catching three passes for 61 yards and a 41-yard score vs. the Thundering Herd. The 6-foot-4 Roberts also has big-play ability and caught a 58-yard pass in the win in Birmingham.
Two more players with excellent speed are Isaiah Sweeney and Gino Collins. Sweeney is a former Conference USA 200m and long jump champion and should be 100 percent for his senior season, while Collins made 10 receptions for 178 yards and a score last year. The Houston native caught a 43-yard touchdown in the win over SMU and added two catches for 61 yards at Tulane.
Also contending for playing time will be Darian Lazard and Wayne Beadle, as well as bigger receivers DeAndre Perry (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Kenneth Bibbins (6-foot-4, 236 pounds).
UH welcomes in some of the country’s top receiving threats. Andrew Rodriguez from Allen High School was a First Team All-State selection making 64 catches for 1,462 yards and 18 scores. He is one of five wide outs entering the program, which includes first team All-American Deontay Greenberry. The Fresno, Calif., native caught 109 passes and produced state-record totals of 2,165 yards and 33 touchdowns in 14 games at Washington Union High School in 2011, leading the Panthers to a California Division III State Championship with a 14-0 mark. They join talented newcomers such as junior college transfer Xavier Maxwell, and freshmen game-breakers Larry McDuffey and Devin Parks.
For the first time since 2007, the quarterback position will be loaded with competition following the departure of the NCAA’s all-time passing leader, Case Keenum. However the Cougars do return quality experience at the spot with David Piland back after a redshirt season in 2011. Piland saw extensive action as a true freshman in 2010 with the injury to Keenum’s knee early in the year and was a Freshman All-American after throwing for 2,641 yards and 24 scores in eight starts.
iland responded nicely in his rookie campaign, ranking among the national leaders with 330.1 yards throwing per contest and he showed improvement each week finishing with career high passing totals of 467 yards and 441 yards respectively in tough road environments at Southern Miss and at Texas Tech. One area Piland has worked heavily on over the past season is his familiarity with the offense and his decision making, which should cut down on the 14 interceptions he threw as a rookie, however his 24-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be envied by most true freshman starters in college football.
The competition at quarterback will be heated however and redshirt freshman Bram Kohlhausen, senior Crawford Jones and sophomore Aaron Johnson will lead the way. Kohlhausen, a 6-foot-2 signal caller, brings great athletic ability to the position and led his high school team to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2008-10). Jones has incredible familiarity with the offense and brings a veteran presence, while Johnson was converted back to quarterback, a position he played successfully in high school after beginning his career as a receiver.
A Look At The Defense
One of Levine’s first moves this off-season was the promotion of Bryant to defensive coordinator. If you ask many around the program the primary reason for Houston’s dramatic defensive evolution in 2011 was the steady work of Bryant, who also quickly molded his linebacking unit into one of the country’s most productive.
In 2012 UH will convert back to the 4-3, a factor that could mean big things for the defensive line. The interior of that line will start with Dominic Miller. Miller was a difference maker for the Cougars at nose and made 13 starts as a first-year player. A transfer from Blinn College, Miller had 2.5 tackles-for-loss, and did an incredible job keeping blockers away from a linebacking core that ranked as one of college football’s best.
Also back is Radermon Scypion, a three-year letterwinner. The senior has good athleticism and saw time in seven games and should be even more productive as a senior. Joey Mbu returns and backed up Miller last season at nose and joining the fray in 2012 are redshirt freshmen Alex Cooper and Keithen English. The Cougars did recruit well along the defensive line and have a pair of all-state defensive tackles joining the squad in Donald Hopkins (Under Armour All-American) and Tomme Mark.
Depth will also be a key factor at defensive end in the new alignment. Kelvin King and Lloyd Allen give the Cougars active rush-ends, while Eric Braswell made 11 starts as a redshirt freshman. Braswell led all defensive linemen with 47 tackles, including four stops against Penn State. King had four tackles-for-loss, two sacks and an interception and will provide a more explosive pass rush to fill in the for the departed Brown. Allen played in 13 games last season and ranked second on the team with 3.5 sacks, three of which came in the win at UAB.
Providing more depth will be Zeke Riser who at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds gives the Cougars some ability to play inside as well after playing in 14 games with four starts last year. B.J. Singleton joins the program and has the ability to compete for a spot in the rotation early in his career.
Linebackers will again be a strength in 2012, although there were two key departures. Brown was one of college football’s most disruptive players racking up 30 tackles-for-loss (led the nation) and 13.5 sacks, while Marcus McGraw became the school’s all-time tackles leader. Back however are Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward. A first year starter as a true freshman, Mathews finished second on the team with 106 tackles while Steward led all linebackers nationally with six interceptions. Both Steward and Mathews will compete alongside another former starter, Efrem Oliphant, who returns after missing 2011 with an injury.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pounder had 66 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss as a freshman in 2010 and brings an ideal frame for the middle of Houston’s speedy defense.
Competing with Oliphant is Everett Daniels, while another pass-rushing specialist, George Bamfo, will see action as well. Look for Austin Wilson and William Moore to compete with Steward this year.
Kent Brooks and Colton Valencia saw time as starters at safety last season and both will be back. Brooks made nine starts and ranked among team leaders with 75 total stops. He also forced a pair of fumbles and is coming off a 10-tackle performance against Penn State last year. A physical player, Brooks started the final nine games in place of Valencia who battled injuries towards the end of the year.
Valencia is now back at full strength and will move to the free safety spot. Despite injury he played in 12 games in 2011, making four starts. His top performance came against UCLA in the opener, where he had 10 tackles.
In competition at both spots are Earl Foster (SS) and Jeffery Lewis (FS). Foster redshirted the 2011 season, but is a very good athlete, while Lewis has earned a pair of letters and had 21 tackles on the year, including an interception at Tulsa.
The cornerback duo of D.J. Hayden and Zach McMillian will be among the best in Conference USA and Hayden could be poised for a breakout season after earning Conference USA Newcomer of the Year honors in 2011. Few junior college transfers had a bigger impact than Hayden as he played lock-down defense and forced a team-leading five fumbles. He also had two interceptions while leading the team with 11 passes broken up. Hayden will be an early front-runner for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year accolades.
McMillian made 13 starts as a sophomore and finished second on the squad with seven passes broken up. He recorded an interception against Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship game and was an important figure in Houston jumping to No. 35 nationally in scoring defense.
Houston is also blessed with depth at corner. Thomas Bates was second on the team with three interceptions a year ago and Chevy Bennett made five starts despite missing several games with an injury.
A Look At The Special Teams
It should surprise no one that one of Houston’s strengths will again be on special teams. When the head coach is a former special teams coordinator, no detail falls through the cracks and special teams has been a strength for Houston since Levine’s arrival. Matt Hogan and Richie Leone lead that unit and each were honorable mention all-conference picks last season. Hogan is the NCAA record holder for consecutive extra-points made in one season (78) and is No. 2 in NCAA history with his 91 extra-point makes a year ago. Already No. 2 in career kick scoring, Hogan has 292 career points and will become just the second player in UH history to top 300 points in a career.
He is also one of the more accurate place kickers and has made 39-of-46 career field goal tries, with a career long of 51.
Leone, who also could handle the kickoff chores as a junior, was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy National Punter of the Year Award in 2011. He averaged 41.1 yards on 51 punts, with 12 boots of 50+ yards and 15 kicks downed inside the 20. He also had just seven touchbacks.
Other key figures returning are senior long snapper Brandon Hartson and the holder, Crawford Jones. Hartson should be C-USA’s top snapper in 2012 after a near flawless 2011 season and few holders were as steady as Jones in 2011.
One area with some new faces on special teams will be the primary punt and kick returners. Gone are Edwards (PR) and Carrier (KR), the NCAA’s all-time leader for kickoff return TDs, but Damian Payne returned a punt 76 yards for a score at Tulane and several players could be in line for kickoff return duties as the spring progresses.
A New Feel
There is a new feel around the University of Houston Football program as Head Coach Tony Levine begins his first full season as the school’s new sideline boss … Levine is of course no stranger to UH Football … Now in his fifth season with the program, Levine spent four seasons on Kevin Sumlin’s staff, including his final two as the Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator.
> Levine is already 1-0 as a head coach at Houston … He directed the Cougars to a 30-14 victory over No. 22 Penn State in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl and UH finished nationally ranked for the first time in more than two decades.
Head Coach Tony Levine opened his career in flawless fashion with a 16-point victory against Penn State … Levine became the first UH head coach to defeat a ranked opponent in his first game as head coach since Harold Lahar in 1957 … The Cougars also finished No. 14 in the final polls, becoming the first Houston squad to finish a year nationally ranked since 1990.
Welcome To The Family
Head Coach Tony Levine was active this off-season hiring a new staff for his first full season patrolling the UH sidelines … One of Levine’s first moves was to promote linebackers coach Jamie Bryant to defensive coordinator … He also retained defensive line coach Carlton Hall and secondary coach Zac Spavital … He named Spavital his recruiting coordinator as well … Levine added a second defensive line coach, as Ricky Logo joined the program with UH’s move to a 4-3 front.
> Offensively the Cougars have a completely new staff, filled with experience … Three former offensive coordinators are on staff and Mike Nesbitt, one of the country’s top “Air Raid” play-callers will be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach … Running backs coach Travis Bush comes to UH after serving as the offensive coordinator at UTSA (now a member of the Western Athletic Conference) and Lee Hays will coach the offensive line and brings offensive coordinator experience from his time at Baylor.
> Former UH standout wide receiver Brandon Middleton will coach outside receivers after a stint playing in the NFL and Jamie Christian will coach inside receivers and special teams for the Cougars after coming from Arizona State … ASU also ran the Air Raid offense and Christian was recently named the nation’s top “non-BCS” recruiter for 2012 by Rivals.com.
Winning At A Record Pace
Houston is one of the country’s Top 25 winningest programs over the last six seasons with 54 wins (54-26) during that stretch, an average of nine wins per season, including a school record 13 wins in 2011 … Boise State is the national leader over the last six campaigns with 73 wins, but Houston tops C-USA with its 54 wins since 2006 and would rank third amongst its new BIG EAST brethren heading into next year’s new conference, trailing only the Broncos and Cincinnati (55-23).
Team Record Since 2006
Boise State 73-6
Virginia Tech 63-19
Ohio State 62-16
West Virginia 59-19
Penn State 56-22
Oklahoma State 55-23
Total Offense, Total Domination
No team in college football has racked up more yards of total offense over the last six seasons than the Houston Cougars … Houston has ranked among the Top 5 nationally in total offense five of the last six years and has led the nation twice, accumulating 7,887 yards in 2009 and 8,387 yards in 2011.
> Houston has averaged an incredible 7,093 yards per season during this six-year stretch, which has seen the club win 54 games and advance to five bowl games, including a win in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl.
> Below is a list of college football’s top offenses over the last six seasons.
Top College Football Offenses Since 2006
Rk. Team Total Yards Season Avg.
1. Houston 42,560 7,093
2. Oklahoma 38,239 6,373
3. Oregon 37,721 6,287
4. Nevada 37,647 6,275
5. Boise State 36,860 6,143
6. Okla. State 36,812 6,135
Houston Football has made a name nationally with its Air Raid attack and no program has been more successful throwing the football than Houston, but the Cougars return one of college football’s top rushers in 2012 as Charles Sims will look to repeat as a First Team All-Conference selection and lead another versatile UH offensive attack … Sims needed just 110 carries to be named to the league’s first team and racked up 821 yards, an average of 7.5 yards per carry in 2011 … Sims found the endzone nine times on the ground a year ago, while also making 51 catches for 575 yards and four scores.
> Sims ranked No. 4 nationally in yards per carry (7.5) in 2011 and his 51 total receptions ranked No. 2 in America among running backs.
Final Season At Robertson
Houston Football will compete in its final season at Robertson Stadium in 2012 as the Cougars close one era and start a new, with the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility … The on-campus facility will feature 40,000 seats on the site of the current Robertson Stadium and construction will begin after the conclusion of the 2012 campaign … UH will compete off campus in 2013 and will open the new facility in 2014.
> In addition, UH will start a renovation of their basketball facility as well, Hofheinz Pavilion … The two projects will give UH some of the most modern on-campus athletics facilities in America.
Conference USA has been the home of Houston Athletics for nearly two decades, but the Cougars will start an exciting new association with the BIG EAST Conference at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign … UH will enter the “coast-to-coast” league with fellow newcomers UCF, SMU and Memphis from Conference-USA, Boise State and San Diego State from the Mountain West and Navy (2015) … The new additions will give the league tremendous exposure, with games being played in all-four continental United States time zones.
Robertson Stadium Support
Fans have flocked to Robertson Stadium in record numbers over the last two seasons, setting record marks for season and single-game attendance over the last 24 months … UH averaged 31,728 in six home games in 2010 and upped that average to 31,731 in seven home games in 2011 … In addition, Houston has seen its top 11 single-game attendance marks since 2009, including a record crowd of 32,413 in the 2011 Conference USA Championship Game.
Returning ALL-Conference Coogs
A number of All-Conference performers return for Houston in 2012, headlined by First Team All-Conference USA running back Charles Sims and 2011 Newcomer of the Year D.J. Hayden … Both players were magnificent as full-time starters in 2011, with Hayden developing into one of the country’s top cover corners and Sims averaging 7.5 yards per rush.
> Houston also returns three award winners along the offensive line … Senior left tackle Jacolby Ashworth was a Second Team All-C-USA pick and guard (now center) Kevin Forsch was an honorable mention selection … Rowdy Harper was named to the All-Freshman Team as a right tackle.
> Derrick Mathews was an All-Freshman pick at linebacker and while Phillip Steward didn’t win a league award, few linebackers nationally were better in pass coverage (six interceptions) … Talented defensive end Eric Braswell was also named an All-Freshman selection after recording 47 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss.
freshman all-Americans now sophomores
Houston is known for having young players produce at high levels and the 2011 season was no different as offensive tackle Rowdy Harper and linebacker Derrick Mathews each started 14 games and earned Freshman All-America accolades.
> Harper was named a Second Team Freshman All-American by Phil Steele Publications, helping block for college football’s most productive offense … Overall the Cougars led the nation in total offense (599.1), passing offense (450.1) and points per game (49.3).
> Mathews was named an honorable mention College Football News Freshman All-American … The former Houston North Shore High School standout ranked second on the squad with 106 total tackles, including 10 tackles-for-loss, a sack and three interceptions … Mathews finished his initial collegiate campaign in magnificent fashion, recording nine tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass broken up in the 30-14 TicketCity Bowl victory against Penn State.
Houston Football welcomes in Conference USA’s top recruiting class once again and the group will spend one season in C-USA before playing a key role in the school’s transition to the BIG EAST Conference in 2013 … Houston enjoyed a number of “firsts” in this newest class, welcoming in the first Scout.com “Five Star” performer, Deontay Greenberry, a wide receiver from California and the school’s first Under Armour All-American, Donald Hopkins, a defensive tackle from Lago Vista, Texas … The UH class welcomed 24 total newcomers and LSU transfer Trevon Randle … One of the country’s top linebacker recruits in 2011.
Take Your Pick
Houston ranked No. 3 nationally with 21 interceptions last season and the Cougars welcome back 17 of those 21 INTs, headlined by linebacker Phillip Steward’s six picks … Steward led all linebackers nationally in 2011 with those six interceptions and he joins sophomore Derrick Mathews who had three interceptions a year ago … Thomas Bates also had three interceptions, while D.J. Hayden had two and Zach McMillian, Jeffery Lewis and Kevin King each had one … Only North Carolina State (27) and Oklahoma State (24) had more interceptions than Houston in 2011.
Tough To Beat At The Rob
The Cougars have taken advantage of playing at home inside Robertson Stadium … Dating back to the 2006 season, UH has a 32-6 record (.842) at home … Even more impressive is the Cougars’ margin of victory in those 32 wins, a remarkable 25.0 points per game (800 in 32 wins) … Overall Robertson Stadium is the 13th most difficult place for opposing teams to win at nationally during that stretch.
Offensive Line Experience
Houston returns one of the league’s most experienced offensive lines, led by four returning starters and three award winners … UH was one of the few teams in college football to have the same starting offensive front in each game last season as the collection of Jacolby Ashworth (LT), Ty Cloud (LG), Chris Thompson (C), Kevin Forsch (RG) and Rowdy Harper made 14 starts a year ago … Ashworth, a three-year starter at left tackle, anchors the UH front and will be an excellent blind side protector for the Houston starting quarterback … Harper is also back for his second season, while Cloud will start atop the depth chart at left guard … One move in the offensive line will be made by Forsch, who was an all-conference guard in 2011, but will move to center … His replacement (this spring) will be Emeka Okafor, who saw time as a true freshman on the line in 2011.
Houston will enter 2012 without the services of the NCAA’s all-time passing leader, Case Keenum, but the Cougars will return a talented corps of quarterbacks in 2012, headlined by 2010 Freshman All-America pick David Piland … Piland was thrust into duty as a true freshman, playing his first snaps against Mississippi State, throwing for 301 yards and a pair of scores … Piland made eight starts as a true freshman and threw for 2,641 yards and 24 touchdowns … He averaged 330.1 yards and three passing scores per game during his rookie season … He topped 300 yards in four games, including 908 combined yards in road games at Southern Miss (467) and Texas Tech (441) … The Southlake Carroll product also had multiple TD throws in seven-of-eight starts, including a career high five scoring tosses at Memphis.
Bryant Helps Fuel Defensive Improvement
Veteran defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant helped shape a dramatically improved Houston defense in 2011, helping the Cougars rank among the nation’s most improved teams in scoring defense … The year before Bryant’s arrival UH ranked No. 96 nationally, allowing 32.2 points per game, but limited opponents to just 22.4 points a season ago … UH ranked No. 35 nationally in scoring defense and his starting linebacking corps ranked as one of the most productive in school history combining for 417 tackles, 62.5 tackles-for-loss, 18.5 sacks and 10 interceptions.