July 25, 2012
The following is the 11th installment of a 12-part series, previewing Marshall's opponents for the upcoming football season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
Senior Day for the Herd comes on Nov. 17 in the final Conference USA meeting with the Houston Cougars.
Houston, like three other C-USA schools, will be joining the Big East Conference in 2013. It will look to improve upon its 2-1 series record while Marshall seeks revenge from a 63-28 loss last season in Houston.
For the fifth time this season, the Herd will face a team with a new head coach. Although Tony Levine is new in the role, he is in his fifth season with the program and should help sustain the success that Kevin Sumlin built. Over the last six seasons, Houston is one of the country's Top 25 winningest programs with 54 wins (54-26) and defeated Penn State in last season's Ticket City Bowl (which Levine coached) while posting a 13-1 record.
Maybe tougher than replacing its successful coach is replacing its all-time greatest quarterback. That is what UH will do this season with Case Keenum, who is the NCAA's all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns and completions.
Stepping up to the challenge is David Piland, a sophomore this season after redshirting in 2011. He started the majority of the games in 2010 after Keenum tore his ACL early in the season. Piland is capable of putting up excellent numbers as he led C-USA in passing yards in league games as a freshman while earning Freshman All-America honorable mention.
All-Conference USA first team running back Charles Sims returns for his junior season after rushing for 821 yards on just 110 carries for a conference-best 7.5 yards per rush. The Cougars also return a key special teams player in place-kicker Matt Hogan. The senior is the NCAA record-holder for consecutive extra points in a season (78 in 2011) and is No. 2 in NCAA history for extra points made in a season (91).
While the offense got much of the attention last season, Houston's defense also shined especially in the turnover game. The Cougars led the conference in interceptions (21) and turnover margin (plus-16). UH also recorded the second-most sacks (31) and ranked first in red zone defense.
Offensive Player to Watch
Wide receiver Deontay Greenberry is the first five-star recruit to select UH. He comes to Houston as the No. 7 wide receiver in the 2012 recruiting class by Scout.com. The Fresno, Calif., native should fit in nicely with returning receivers Ronnie Williams (Sr.), Dewayne Peace (Jr.) and Daniel Spencer (So.), despite losing all four starters from a year ago.
Defensive Player to Watch
Linebacker Derrick Mathews is the team's top returning tackler with 106 last season. He will look for more this season with the loss of Marcus McGraw, who ranked fourth in the NCAA with 16.0 tackles per game. Another player to watch is senior linebacker Phillip Steward, who led the Cougars with six interceptions last season.
Can David Piland do a Case Keenum impression? Not that he needs to do that for Houston to be a winning team, but he certainly will if the Cougars look to reach the top 10 in the polls as it did last season (No. 7).
How will the offense respond to new offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt?
Can the defense successfully replace linebacker Sammy Brown, who stuffed the defense with a C-USA leading 30 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks?
Quote to Note
"We have definitely made progress since the first scrimmage. We've all come together as players and also with the coaches. We all have a better understanding of what one another is doing and where everyone will be on the field at a certain time."
--David Piland, Houston sophomore quarterback
Sept. 1 Texas State
Sept. 8 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 15 at UCLA
Sept. 29 at Rice*
Oct. 6 North Texas*
Oct. 13 UAB*
Oct. 20 at SMU*
Oct. 27 UTEP*
Nov. 3 at East Carolina*
Nov. 10 Tulsa*
Nov. 17 at Marshall*
Nov. 24 Tulane*
* Conference USA games