There are now 42 days until the 2012 college football season kicks off. We continue our preview of UCLA football’s schedule in 2012 after breaking down what might happen against Rice and Nebraska. This time, we break down our match-up against the Cougars from the University of Houston.
Houston will be going through a hell of a transition phase in 2012. This year will mark their final season that Houston will play in the Conference USA, and will move on to be a big member of the equally-prestigious but slightly more rich Big East.
Plus, all-world QB Case Keenum — who had three 40-touchdown seasons with Houston — is now in the NFL (undrafted, mind you, to highlight the lack of competition in the C-USA since they’re out there with Rice) and head coach Kevin Sumlin — an option that UCLA was considering as their next head coach but ultimately decided against it — is now at Texas A&M.
But this team had a good season in 2011, despite their weak-as-hell schedule which only saw them play against two major conferences — UCLA and a scandal-ridden, Joe Paterno-less Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl — and win both of those match-ups. However, the fact that Houston narrowly beat UCLA in Houston — a run-of-the-mill squad we were, love of my school be damned — shouldn’t convince anyone that this team can absorb the blows of losing Sumlin and Keenum.
This squad isn’t even favored to win the C-USA this year — that’d be Tulsa — while UCLA is projected to win eight or nine games in 2011 in the Pac-12.
Houston Offense vs. UCLA Defense
Last season, the Houston offense was explosive, to say the least. The squad averaged damn near 50 points per game, good enough for tops in the nation. Once again, Keenum is gone, but Cotton Turner and David Piland looked good — not “KEENUM” good — while Keenum was out, though the sample size is pretty small.
The Cougars also lost their two best running backs and three of their top four receivers. In essence, this squad is heading into a major transitional phase. And though I can’t seem to get a heartbeat on the Houston fan-base, it seems fair to say that this squad is heading into the season with a good amount of uncertainty in all aspects of the offense.
Meanwhile, the UCLA defense could handle Houston’s offense if the Cougs are meant to go through some growing pains as the season trudges on for them. Head coach Tony Levine will be doing a hell of a lot of experimenting and into the third week of the season, you’d imagine that they’d barely have found out the roster they want out on offense. UCLA could exploit all that inexperience by being aggressive, so take notes, Lou Spanos. (Just kidding, Lou, we love ya.)
Houston Defense vs. UCLA Offense
Last season, Houston struggled out of the gates defensively. They righted the ship after a rough start, though, and wound up limiting opponents to less than 20 points in five of their last six contests. There’s not much being lost defensively, too, so you’d expect there’d be some continuity here.
The coaching staff, though, is getting a make-over. Jamie Bryant — Houston’s defensive coordinator — is bringing back the 4-3 defense after stints with the 3-4 in the Sumlin era. Who knows if this is good or not and the personnel may or may not support it.
So when you ask me whether the Houston defense will be any good, I can offer this: I don’t know. (Analysis!)
UCLA’s offense, though, seems primed to finally make a splash in the Pac-12 behind Noel Mazzone. The secondary for Houston seems to be a strong-point, though — UH allowed just 200 yards per game through the air but let up 172 yards per game on the ground — so utilizing Jonathan Franklin as an every-down back and Steven MANfro in the flat could expose some holes in that UH defense.
UCLA has options, if things go according to plan, and Houston has its fair share of weaknesses defensively.
The Prediction: UCLA 37, Houston 24
Last season, these two squads were in a high-scoring thriller that came down to the wire. This time, though, UCLA will be at home, where the Bruins lost only once — to Texas — in 2011, and it’ll be coming back with what should be a much better offense and a defense that’s headed by a head coach who is a defensive specialist.
If things go according to plan, UCLA should start the season off 2-1 with a win over UH.