Team preview: Houston

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(All information as of July 1, 2005)


Though Houston seemingly took a step back last season with just three victories, third-year coach Art Briles thinks he has the Cougars on the right track. He points to 17 returning starters -- including many at the skill positions, and the fact that in 2004 his young team lost a pair of tough road games -- by three points to Rice and in overtime to Southern Mississippi.

"I like the direction where we're headed," Briles said. "Of course, we're not where we want to be. But we're becoming more productive in the classroom. And on the field, we've played three teams the last couple years that have either won or played for a national title. We lost a couple tough road games that kept us from getting over the hump. But now we need to do that."

That probably starts on defense, where the Cougars are switching to a 3-4 alignment in hopes of taking advantage of a set of quick and experienced linebackers. Briles and defensive coordinator Ron Harris installed the new defense in the spring and liked the early returns.

There is ample room for improvement. Last year Houston finished 92nd nationally against the run, 95th against the pass and 96th in scoring defense.

"We've got a lot of guys who have played a lot the last few years," Briles said. "We have to rely on them really being good leaders and taking us to the next level."

On offense, the Cougars will try to return to the production of 2003. After averaging 458.3 yards and 34.5 points per game that season, Houston dropped to 389.7 and 20.9, respectively, in '04.