Time has finally arrived for the kickoff of college football season. The Houston Cougars seek to rebound from a 5-7 2010 season when they host the UCLA Bruins on Saturday afternoon at Robertson Stadium. And the Rice Owls seek to better their 4-8 season from last year when they start with a visit to the Texas Longhorns on Saturday night.
Neither team will be battling for the mythical national title. But that puts them in good standing with the rest of the schools in this state as there is no Texas college that will compete for it except, perhaps, for TCU.
If any team in the state is going to run off a perfect record, it's going to be the Cougars. The Cougars might start the season against UCLA, a former NCAA power that hasn't been relevant in PAC-12 title talk since the days when Troy Aikman was quarterback, but they're still the best team the Cougars will face until the end of November. Most teams from non-automatic BCS qualifying conferences like the Cougars attempt to play demanding non-conference schedules to prove worthiness for one of the BCS bowl games. But that's not how the Cougars are doing it.
Except for UCLA, the Cougars are playing a non-conference schedule so weak that it makes their conference schedule look strong, and that's saying a lot for a conference schedule including non-powerhouses Tulane, UAB and Marshall. But after UCLA the Cougars face Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Georgia State, a school which only last year was fielding its first football team. So couple that with a C-USA schedule that doesn't include Southern Miss or UCF, two of the league's best teams, and the Cougars aren't exactly looking at a BCS-buster quality schedule.
I see the Cougars losing to UCLA this weekend in a game the Bruins pull out because their more physical style of play wears down the still unproven UH defense. The Cougars should roar through the rest of the season until November 19 when they face SMU and the next week when they travel to Tulsa. In the end, the Cougars finish the C-USA season with a 9-3 record and finish second to SMU in the division.
The record guarantees the Coogs will reach a bowl game, which should equal success for the program. By the end of the season, QB Case Keenum should be atop the NCAA record books in numerous categories including most career-TD passes and career passing yards. The offense will continue to pile up yards and points, and Keenum's big problem will probably be deciding which of his many weapons he should utilize on each play. The problem will be whether the defense can stop the other teams from scoring, and that is an issue the school has faced for a long, long time.
The Owls hope to start things with a bang by upsetting the Longhorns in Austin on the premier game of the mythical Longhorn Network, a network so grand that virtually no person will be able to view the game on it. The Owls' schedule is the opposite of the Cougars'. Rice plays a non-conference schedule featuring Texas, Purdue, Baylor and Northwestern, and their 12-game schedule matches them up against six teams that went to bowl games last season.
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The Owls can put up the points with a powerful running game that features five running backs capable of being starters. But as with the Cougars, the key question for the Owls will be the defense. The Owls hope that a defense full of returning starters will improve a squad that often found itself a step slow last season. And if the defensive players can stay healthy, they may be able to pull off the needed big improvement (being Rice, they've already lost one of their key defenders, Travis Bradshaw, for the season).
The Owls are a better team than they were last year. And they should be given some kind of award for playing the schedule that they're playing. A reward like a bowl game. But I don't see this happening. The non-conference schedule is just too hard, too much for the Owls to overcome, and they finish the season 5-7.
Of course, the fun thing about college football is that they actually play the games and don't depend on people like me to decide the actual results. So I could be very, very wrong in my predictions and the Cougars will end up winning C-USA and Rice will make a bowl, which will be a happy outcome for all involved.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Saturday's UH/UCLA game will be televised on Fox Sports Houston starting at 2:30 p.m. But for the best play-by-play, tune in to 790AM for the call of Tom Franklin, Ted Pardee and Chuck Brown. And since the Longhorn Network probably still won't be up and running for the Rice game, the best thing you can do, and what you should do even if you have the Longhorn Network, is turn to 1430AM at 7 p.m. for the call of the game of David Saltzman and Nate Griffin....If you want to follow the Rice game on Twitter, follow Joseph Duarte @Chronicle_Owls and MK Bower @FSH_Owls.... And depending on how good the UH press box wireless is on Saturday, you can follow Sam Khan @skhanjr and myself @John_Royal.