One area we have not touched on as much is the Group of Five. Usually I leave those posts up to Justin since he’s the expert on all Group of Five knowledge but today I decided to give a few of my thoughts. Houston is primed for a run at a New Year’s Six bowl game which is why I have chosen to discuss them as part of today’s 99 Things. Houston is currently one of the favorite Group of Five teams to make a New Year’s Six bowl along with Cincinnati, BYU, UTSA, Coastal Carolina, UCF, and Appalachian State.
The Cougars are led by former West Virginia coach, Dana Holgorsen. He is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Cougars and he is coming off his best season. Houston finished the 2021 season with a 12-2 record. Their only losses came in the season opener against Texas Tech and in the conference championship against Cincinnati. The Cougars 12 wins included Auburn, Memphis, SMU, Tulsa and ECU. Houston has the momentum and will be leaving for the Big 12 after this season. The best way for them to finish out their tenure in the AAC is to win the conference and make a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Two of Houston’s best offensive players are back and looking to continue their dominance. Quarterback Clayton Tune returns as the starting quarterback. He is entering his fifth season at Houston. His 2021 campaign was by far his best season thus far. Tune threw for 3,544 yards, 30 touchdowns. He also completed 68.2% of his passes which ranked him 14th in the country ahead of players such as Kenny Pickett, Bryce Young, and Will Levis. Tune’s number one target also returns. Junior Nathaniel Dell was First-Team All-AAC last year after leading the conference in receiving yards. Dell finished with 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dell had five different games where he topped 130 receiving yards last season. He also had at least seven catches in eight games last season. Having the combination of Tune and Dell will make Houston one of the best passing attacks in the entire country.
Houston’s defensive line was known as “Sack Avenue” last season. The defensive line combined to post 34.5 sacks last year. 15 different players on Houston’s defense registered at least one sack last season. D’Anthony Jones and Derek Parish return to help lead the line. Jones only played in nine games but was tied for the team lead in sacks with 6.0. Parish finished the season with 54 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks. Linebacker Donovan Mutin will also be crucial to the team’s success. He led the team in tackle with 74 last season. Mutin was also one of the captains for the team last year and played with his heart on his sleeve. If Jones, Parish, and Mutin can play as well as they did last year, Houston will likely be in the AAC Championship this fall.
Houston has an overall favorable schedule this season. The Cougars avoid playing both Cincinnati and UCF in the regular season. Their nonconference matchups have the possibility to be difficult with trips to UTSA and Texas Tech then home games against Kansas and Rice. The conference slate has Houston traveling to Memphis, SMU, Navy and ECU. They will host Temple, Tulsa, USF and Tulane. If Houston is able to finish their nonconference games with a record of at least 3-1, they will likely be favored in each of their remaining games. The Cougars need to handle business from that point and a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game is likely in the cards.