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In 2017 with first year head coach Major Applewhite at the helm, the Houston Cougars finished with a record of 7-5, which includes a tough season-ending loss to Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. Though the Cougars season did hold the same level of success experienced at the end of the Tom Herman era, fans were pleased to see UH remain competitive, and should be optimistic heading into 2018. Yes, Applewhite inherited a talented squad from Herman, but we should not overlook the fact that he led his team to a bowl game appearance in his first season as a head coach, while also doing it with an inexperienced sophomore quarterback in D’Eriq King. There seems to be a bright future for the new regime in Houston, with plenty more room to grow.
The Cougars will return in 2018 with a large collection of new faces after losing 6 defensive starters, and multiple key contributing playmakers on offense.
When examining the offensive side of the ball, there a few particular players who held major roles that the Cougars will have to hope they can replace. Starting in the backfield, the Cougars will return in 2018 without lead running back Duke Catalon who finished last season with just under 700 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. Though only a junior, Catalon left the program for personal reasons, and has left UH’s backfield with a giant hole to fill. To add to the departure of Catalon, Houston will also have to find replacements for their top two receivers in 2017, seniors Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar who combined for a total of 1,900 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns in 2017. Each of the players provided versatile playmaking skills that the Cougars leaned on heavily. Needless to say, Coach Applewhite and the Cougars’ offense will have a serious challenge ahead of them with the loss of their 3 biggest offensive weapons.
Turning our attention to the defensive side of the ball, it could be argued that the Cougars will have even more work cut out for them to rebuild. Houston will have to replace 6 total starters in 2018 after losing multiple players from each position group, all of which were experienced seniors. Their biggest losses come in the form of senior linebackers D’juan Hines, and Matthew Adams. Hines and Adams were the top two leading tacklers for the Cougars in 2017, and set the tone for Houston’s aggressive defense. Not only will UH have to worry about replacing their leading tacklers, they will also have to look to replace senior safety Terrell Williams, who was not only fourth on the team in tackles behind defensive lineman Ed Oliver, but also hauled in 4 interceptions.
Despite some glaring losses on each side of the ball for the Cougars, there are definite reasons to remain optimistic. Offensively, the Cougars welcome back their 2017 leader, now junior quarterback D’Eriq King. Though you cannot overlook the loss of King’s most experienced and reliable weapons, it will be easier for the Cougars to develop new talent and continue to produce offensively with King leading the huddle.
Defensively, much like on the other side of the ball, the Coogs will have to find new key players to rely on. The Cougars will at least have some sense of security in the form of junior defensive lineman, Ed Oliver, who has been a cornerstone in Houston’s defense since 2016. Houston can trust that Oliver will at least be an example for their younger and less experienced defensive starters as they learn what it takes to win on the collegiate level.
As for head coach Major Applewhite’s first recruiting class, he was able to land 11 three-star athletes. This might not sound like anything special, but for a first-year coach, Applewhite will have a collection of players with potential to build around in the near future, or in the least be able to maintain the standard of success in Houston.
In 2018, you can expect the Cougars to remain competitive once again but not all things will be pretty. Coach Applewhite will not only have to find and develop his new and inexperienced starters on both sides of the ball, but he will also have to work hard to make sure they can grasp and execute his offensive and defensive systems. Be confident in the Cougars but be patient as well. There is a lot this team will have to overcome, but I strongly believe it will be just a matter of time until Applewhite has this team back in the national spotlight.