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2023 TCU Football Opponent Preview: Houston Cougars

The Horned Frogs’ first road trip of the season is to Big 12 newcomer Houston on Sept. 16.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Media Days Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Cougars join the Big 12 this year and their first conference game will be against TCU. In my opinion, the Horned Frogs couldn’t ask for a better opponent to start conference play. Houston finished last season 8-5 (with losses to both Texas Tech and Kansas) despite having one of the country's best quarterback/wide receiver duos with Clayton Tune and Tank Dell.

While Houston has the most upside of the newcomers to the Big 12, I don’t think they have the talent to win big this season. Houston was the first (and only) group of five program to sign a 5-star recruit with Ed Oliver, and their move to the Big 12 will allow that to become a more common occurrence.

TCU's record against Houston: 12-13.

Current Streak: TCU has 8 straight wins over the Houston Cougars.

Most recent matchup: 2007 - TCU won 20-13.

While the Air Raid scheme remains in place, the Houston offense will have a lot of new faces in 2023. Quarterback Clayton Tune (4,065 yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) was the second-highest graded QB in the country last season according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s now with the Arizona Cardinals. His favorite target, Tank Dell (108 receptions, 1,399 yards, 17 touchdowns) is now with the Houston Texans. While unfortunate for the Cougars, the rest of the Big 12 is happy they don’t have to gameplan for the duo.

Offensive Breakdown

Houston’s quarterback competition is currently ongoing between Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith and last year’s backup Lucas Coley. I think Smith will end up being the guy given his experience as a Big 12 starter, and his dual-threat ability, but we will see. Whoever the guy ends up being will have to develop and grow with new wide receivers. The Cougars’ top returners from last season are Matthew Golden (38 receptions, 584 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Samuel Brown (41 receptions, 471 yards, 4 touchdowns).

Houston does return their top running back from last season, true sophomore Stacy Sneed, who will likely play a much bigger role in 2023. Up front, the Cougars lost 2 offensive linemen to the transfer portal, so they’ll return 3 starters from last year. Of the new programs entering the Big 12 this year, Houston has the best size on the offensive line, so it will be interesting to watch them match up with the new conference.

Matchup With TCU Defense

Dana Holgorsen is going to scheme some things up. At some point in the game, Houston will be able to move the ball. However, given TCU’s secondary, I don’t think Houston will be successful in that for an entire game. I expect TCU will have Josh Newton match up against whoever the top pass catcher is in Houston’s first two games, and that will allow the Horned Frogs to get more creative with their blitz packages. While the Cougars have size up front, they’re new to the Big 12 and will be breaking in 2 new offensive linemen as well. I don’t expect the Cougars to have much success in the run game.

Defensive Breakdown

I’m really not sure what to expect of this defense in 2023, but I can tell you one thing for certain - they’re going to give up passing yards. The Cougars lose 4 of their top 5 guys by snap count in the secondary, and 3 of them are on NFL rosters. Hasaan Hypolite is the lone returner in the secondary and he only had 26 tackles last season. However, Holgorsen did some work in the transfer portal to address the issue. The Cougars bring in Latrell McCutchin at cornerback from USC, and they also added former JuCo All-American Brian George from Texas A&M. I expect both will see significant time on the field at Houston.

The Cougars also lost their top linebacker from last season and looked to the portal for answers. Holgorsen pulled off one of the better pickups in the transfer portal this season, bringing in former Oklahoma and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention linebacker David Ugwoegbu. In his 4 years at OU, Ugwoegbu totaled 211 tackles and 4 sacks. Up front, the Cougars had 5 different players with at least 400 snaps last year and 3 of them return, including Nelson Caesar who had 48 pressures and 4 sacks last year.

Matchup With TCU Offense

The most obvious advantage I see for the Horned Frogs is in the passing game. Chandler Morris is now in year 2 at TCU, so he knows his receivers. While the Frogs are installing a new system with Kendal Briles as the OC, I don’t expect the Frogs will struggle to get things rolling early in the year. Yes, TCU suffered heavy losses at wide receiver this past offseason, but I’ll take the TCU wide receiver room over the Houston secondary any day of the week.

Ugwoegbu will be the best player on the field for the Cougars, so it’ll be important to know where he is at all times. He’s not a huge pressure creator, but he does play the run well. Since TCU has 2 of the better tackles in the Big 12, I’m confident they’ll be able to protect Morris well during the game.

I’m really excited about this game. I know Dana Holgorsen isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like the guy, and I’m excited to have him back in the Big 12. I expect the Cougars will eventually turn into a formidable opponent, but in year 1 I think the Frogs win big.