The Houston Cougars are officially entering their first season in the Big 12 Conference after becoming a conference member on July 1st. The Cougars finished fifth in the AAC last season with an overall record of 8-5. Houston’s squad now joins one of the fastest-rising football conferences in America under commissioner Brett Yormark, as the Cougars enter the fall in hopes of competing in year one.
In his opening statement at Big 12 Media Days, Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen expressed his excitement for Houston being in the Big 12. The University of Houston has been looking forward to this day for a long, long time.” Holgorsen said. “We all know the history of the Big 12 Conference, and I am proud to be at a university with great leadership to get us here.”
As exciting as the move is for Houston, Dana knows just how tough this conference is from his time at other schools in the Big 12. “The Big 12 is the deepest conference in the country.” Holgorsen said. “Their used to be layups back in the day but there aren’t any layups now.” And Dana is right, the Big 12 Conference is as tough as any conference in college football from top to bottom.
With the move to a new conference, Houston hopes to capture some of their success from the American Athletic Conference into the Big 12 Conference. Offensively, the Cougars return five starters including a pair of sophomore receivers in Matthew Golden and Sam Brown who combined for 79 catches, 1,055 receiving yards, and 11 scores on the season last year as true freshmen. The team lost one of the best pass catchers in program history this season as Tank Dell is now with the in the NFL with the Houston Texans. With a cast of young receivers set to step up, the squad should find themselves in good hands pending the development of the young pass-catching duo of Golden and Brown.
The biggest question mark of the offense is at quarterback. For the last four years, Clayton Tune has been their guy and he has gone to the NFL. Now Houston has a good old fashioned quarterback battle on their hands between Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith and Lucas Coley. It appears that Smith has the upper hand due to his experience. “I’ve been very impressed with Donovan.” Said Dana Holgorsen. “The University of Houston has had some good quarterback play through the years. The expectations are high, and I felt it was important to bring in a guy with experience.”
Despite Donovan Smith being the favorite to win the job, Dana Holgorsen is going to let the competition play out. When talking about the two quarterbacks fighting for the job, he spoke with former Houston quarterback Case Keenum. Dana asked Case when a good time is to name a starting quarterback, and Keenum’s response was “I wouldn’t. Just let them compete.” And Dana agreed saying, “We knew our two guys were going to be 50/50 and they are going to continue to be 50/50 until one of them makes it clear. I think it’s going to naturally take care of itself.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Houston returns seven starters including players like sophomore DE Nelson Ceaser who was third on the team in sacks and first in TFL with 36 tackles, four sacks, six TFLs, one forced fumble, and one interception. The team also returns one of its top defensive backs in junior Alex Hogan who led the squad in pass breakups in the 2022 season with 10. While Houston’s defense was one of the better units in the AAC last season they are now tasked to face some high-flying offenses and some of the best quarterbacks in the nation in the Big 12 Conference.
The Houston Cougars will begin their 2023 campaign at home against the UTSA Road Runners on September 2nd, then the program will host Sonny Dykes and the TCU Horned Frogs at home to kick off the start of conference play.