By this point, most fans have their expectations set for the season. When I look at the 2022 schedule, and combine that with the improved roster at key positions and more depth across the board, my initial thought is an 11-1 regular season.
But diving deeper, I find plenty of reasons to temper those expectations. On offense, UH will be without a few vital players. Alton McCaskill is the first name that comes to mind. He became a bonafide star in his first year, rushing for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading the team in scoring. Is Alton worth a win? Maybe more?
Two losses on the OL will hurt, especially early in the season: center Kody Russey and right tackle Dennis Bardwell. The offensive line was not great in 2021, allowing 38 sacks and 103 tackles for loss. While not a great line as a unit, these 2 were the most experienced and graded out 2nd and 3rd most effective according to Pro Football Focus. Those two guys also gave you 14 starts each.
On defense, UH lost big producers and key contributors in Logan Hall, Marcus Jones, Damarion Williams, Deontay Anderson, and David Anenih. That group produced five of the top 10 leaders in tackles, the team leader in tackles for loss, over 30% of the total TFL, as well as half of the team’s interceptions and QB hurries. Marcus Jones was also the best return man in college football and one of the best in the history of the game.
As bad as this year’s schedule is, and it’s plenty bad, last season was even worse. UH trades Grambling for UTSA, Tech on the road vs. in Houston, and Kansas for UConn. Kansas is not good, but they aren’t UConn bad. And that leads me to my biggest concern.
Despite the lousy schedule, several games in 2021 were way too close for comfort. There was an 8-point home win over 4-8 Navy, when UH didn’t take the go-ahead lead in the 4th qtr. A two-win Tulane team was within 4 points going into the 4th quarter before UH pulled away. It took overtime to beat ECU at home. UH needed a walk-off kick return to beat SMU at home. USF, a two-win team, cut UH’s lead to five with 4 minutes to go. Memphis was within a score in the 4th qtr at TDECU Stadium before UH sealed the win with less than 4 minutes to go.
Navy, ECU, SMU, and Memphis are on the road this year (along with Texas Tech and UTSA). None of those teams are great, and I expect the Coogs to beat them all. But funny things can happen on the road.
That said, UH can overcome the losses in personnel with improved talent and guys stepping up from lesser roles. The experience of a bunch of too-close-for-comfort games will focus UH’s experienced leaders on pushing the rest to take care of business. Even still, I expect a 10-2 season, to win the conference, and earn the Cotton Bowl bid.
But I wouldn’t be shocked if the outcome was 8-4 and a Whocares Bowl appearance.