- Matt Fortuna, College Football
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2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: offense: 10; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Sims* (851 yards, 11 TDs)
Passing: Piland* (256-of-448 for 2,929 yards, 16 TDs, 12 INTs)
Receiving: Peace* (603 yards, 2 TDs)
Tackles: Steward (128)
Sacks: Steward (11)
Interceptions: McMillian* (5)
1. Receiving corps. The Cougars return Peace and Greenberry, their top two pass-catchers from a year ago. What's more, they added former USC and former Western College player Markeith Ambles, who will be eligible to play this fall. The addition of ESPN's No. 23 player from the Class of 2010 should give Houston the best group of receivers in the conference.
2. Running back. Like at receiver, Houston returns the bulk of its production from the backfield last season. Sims combined with Kenneth Farrow to notch 1,317 yards and 13 scores last season, and they will be running behind the same offensive line from a season ago.
3. Staff additions. David Gibbs replaces Jamie Bryant after last year's poor defensive performance. And Houston is now on to its third offensive coordinator since the first game of last season, as Mike Nesbitt was fired after Week 1 last season and Doug Meacham has joined to team with Travis Bush. Meacham's pedigree — he coached inside receivers and tight ends at high-powered Oklahoma State for eight seasons — and the weapons around him should give the unit plenty of flexibility if it finds the right quarterback.
1. Starting QB. Speaking of quarterback, Piland is back after 10 starts last season. He looked good distributing the ball around this spring and will have a number of weapons at his disposal. The hope in Houston is that he will be more consistent following all of the staff changes, but juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn won't go down without a fight.
2. Building on defense. Gibbs is in at coordinator after last year's defense ranked 115th nationally in total D, 107th in scoring D, 92nd in rushing D and 115th in passing D. Seven starters are back, but the unit loses a first-round draft pick in Hayden and its top linebacker in Steward. Look for LSU transfer Trevon Randle to make an impact early at linebacker.
3. Youth. Houston brings back 43 players from last year's roster and had a 26-man recruiting class, plus the addition of Ambles. The Cougars have just six seniors on the defensive roster and are stepping up to a new slate of opponents this season, meaning there will be plenty of growing up to do early.