HOUSTON COUGARS: The Cougars begin this season under a new head coach. Kevin Sumlin is the new commander, and he made history in that not only is he the first African-American coach at the University of Houston, he’s also the first African-American head coach of a Football Bowl System program in the state. The former co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma will also be running a version of the spread offense that the Cougars ran under former head coach Art Briles, and Sumlin will have returning quarterbacks Case Keenum and Blake Joseph to run the team. Keenum, who was last season’s Conference USA Freshman of the Year, tossed for 2,259 yards and 14 TDs last season and will be the starting QB for tomorrow’s game with Southern.
Former head coach Art Briles left Sumlin an excellent nucleus with which to work, and they should compete for the championship for the Conference USA West Division this season, though they will once again have to deal with Tulsa. But I don’t care about the team winning C-USA. I’d be happy if the team, for once, finds a way to win a bowl game. Any bowl game. I don’t care which one, I just want a win. And it will also be nice if the team mascot can make it through the season without being tea-bagged by any opposing mascots.
RICE OWLS: The Owls experienced a disappointing season last year, finishing 3-9 a year after advancing to their first bowl game in four decades. Of course, Rice was in a bit of turmoil as coach Todd Graham left after one season to take over the Tulsa program. New head coach David Bailiff came out with an offensive juggernaut that could score points on anybody. They just couldn’t stop any other from scoring.
The good news is that QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard are returning. Clement broke 18 school records last season while throwing for 3,377 yards and 29 TDs. He was also the first QB in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and run for at least 100 yards in consecutive games. Dillard is the NCAA’s active career leader in receptions with 205, receiving yards, and TD receptions. His 40 career TDs place him eighth all-time, and 11 TDs receptions this season will break the NCAA’s career mark.
The key for the Owls will be the defense. If they find someway to stop the opposition, they might win more than three games. They take on SMU tonight at Rice Stadium, so this might be a good preview of Rice’s Conference USA season.
TEXAS SOUTHERN TIGERS: The Tigers experienced a 2007 season that they would all probably rather forget, going 0-11. So the Tigers got a new head coach Johnnie Cole, a new defensive coordinator, L.C. Cole, and a new quarterback, former Oklahoma State lightning rod Bobby Reid. Cole is known for his high octane offenses, so if nothing else, the Tigers of 2008 should be an exciting team to watch. And I doubt the Houston press will be as tough on Reid as the Oklahoma press. I don’t think the Tigers will be able to compete for the SWAC championship – Grambling, Southern, and Prairie View just look too tough – but I do think TSU will put some wins on the board this season.
THE JOHN ROYAL PRE-SEASON TOP TWENTY-FIVE:
1. Southern California Trojans: One can argue that the Trojans should’ve played in the BCS title game last year. This year, there will be no question.
2. Oklahoma Sooners: This year they win their sixth Big 12 title. And they do it rather easily.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes: Oh God, please don’t let the Buckeyes play in the BCS title game again.
4. Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs are the consensus number one team in most preseason polls, but one of my colleagues used to play for Georgia, so just to piss him off, I’m picking them fourth.
5. Louisiana State Tigers: Les Miles is still the coach of this talented squad. Look for them to be in title contention yet again.
6. Missouri Tigers: Missouri, behind QB Chase Daniel, appeared from nowhere last year to compete for the national title. And this year they prove that 2007 wasn’t just a fluke.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers: Rich Rodriguez made an ugly exit to coach Michigan. But Heisman Trophy hopeful QB Pat White is back, and he will keep the team in the hunt for the top ranking.
8. Brigham Young Cougars: 2006 was the year of Boise State. Last year it was Hawaii. This time, BYU gets to play with the big boys come bowl season.
9. Oregon Ducks: The Ducks have to win because they have the ugliest uniforms in sports. Plus, I’m pretty sure their mascot will kick their asses if they don’t.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders: Suck on this Mack Brown.
11. Florida Gators: Heisman winner Tim Tebow is back, but the team has been beset with injuries.
12. Kansas Jayhawks: The Jayhawks have been verging on being a powerhouse team for several years now. Last year they hit that goal. Now they just have to repeat.
13. Texas Longhorns: Is Mack Brown still the coach? Is Vince Young still in the pros? Looks like another mediocre season for the Horns.
14. Clemson Tigers: Clemson keeps threatening to breakthrough into powerhouse status. They threaten again, but stall out at number 14.
15. Wisconsin Badgers: I always find them to be one of the most boring teams in football; yet they always find a way to win.
16. South Florida Bulls: The Bulls surprised a lot of teams last year, but their wins weren’t flukes. This is a talented team led by QB Matt Grothe.
17. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Not just a basketball school anymore.
18. Illinois Fighting Illini: The Illini will look like an offensive powerhouse in the Big Ten, but will be shut down when playing outside the conference.
19. Auburn Tigers: An SEC team running the spread offense just looks wrong. But Auburn finds a way to pull it off.
20. Arizona State Sun Devils: Was last season a fluke due to an easy schedule? I think so.
21. Boise State Broncos: This is a fun team to watch. They could put David Carr at QB and still find a way to win.
22. Alabama Crimson Tide: Just checking, has Nick Saban split for another job yet?
23. Texas Christian Horned Frogs: The Frogs were a major disappointment last season. They make up for it in 2008.
24. Tennessee Volunteers: Where have you gone, Peyton Manning? A college turns its lonely eyes to you.
25. Utah Utes: Another fun offensive team to watch, but this one is backed by a good defense.
-- John Royal