THE AAC REPORT.

AAC preview: With a new coach at the helm, the Houston Cougars should be one of the top teams in the conference

On the heels of another season, The University of Houston is set to begin another year of College Football on Sunday, as the Cougars open their 2019 schedule against the No. 4 ranked team in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners. While some may overlook the significance of the non-conference match, Sunday's kickoff at The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, OK will mark the beginning of a new era for Houston.

After a disappointing year that saw the team go 8-5, the Cougars made some significant changes to their program in 2019, but none more important than the hiring of Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen, 48, comes to the University of Houston after severing eight years as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers, where he turned the football program into one of the most respected schools in the Big 12 Conference, with a 61-41 record.

And much like his time in West Virginia, one should expect Holgorsen to transform Houston's football program into one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference starting this season.

Players to watch

QB D'Eriq King

One of the factors that could make the Cougars a dangerous team this season is the talent Holgorsen has one his team, starting with senior quarterback, D'Eriq King. The 5'11 quarterback from Manvel, Texas had a breakout season in 2018 here he recorded 2982 passing yards and 36 touchdowns, on 345 attempts. It is also worth mentioning that Kings rushed for a career-high 674 yards on 111 carries.

Since signing with Houston in 2016, Kings has always displayed the talents as a top tear quarterback, but 2019 maybe his year to finally led the Cougars to an AAC championship title. He is one of 30 quarterbacks listed in the this year's Manning Award Watch List, as well as ranked 40th overall in ESPN's 2019 Top 50 College Players in 2019. If King can live up to the high preseason expectations, the Cougars can easily become one of the top football teams in all the nation.

WR Marquez Stevenson

After a slow start to his freshman season, Houston's wideout, Marquez Stevenson, had an explosive year in 2018. As a sophomore, Stevenson posted career-highs across the boards with 1019 receiving yards, 75 catches, and nine touchdowns. Last season, he was the only receiver to record over 1,000 yards, and as he heads into his junior season, one should expect Stevenson to solidify himself as one of the top wideouts in the American Athletic Conference.

RB Patrick Carr

Houston's running back, Patrick Carr, is heading into his final year as the starting running back for the Cougars, and one should expect another great season from the Woodlands native. Last year, Carr led all players in rushing with 868 and five touchdowns. With competition for the starting position in the backfield coming from Kyle Porter, a transfer from Texas, Carr will be on high alert not to lose his starting spot in his senior season.

LB Isaiah Chambers

Despite having one of the best defensive players in Ed Oliver, the Cougars had one of the worst defensive teams in all of college football last season. It was the worst statistical seasons in school history, recording 483 points allowed, giving up 6,454 total yards, and 42 rushing touchdowns. However, under coach Holgorsen, it is safe to say that Houston's defense will undergo a major improvement in 2019, and a huge factor in their turn around will be linebacker, Isaiah Chambers.

Chambers' 2018 season ended prematurely due to a knee injury, but now healthy, one should expect Chamber to have a major impact on Houston's defense. Prior to the injury, Chamber got off to a nice start with 4.5 sacks in the first five games.

CB Damarion Williams

Another player that will make a positive impact on Houston's defense is cornerback back, Damarion Williams. Although this is his first season playing D-1 football, Williams addition to the team may be one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason. As a member of the NJCAA All-America First Team at Highland Community College, Williams led the nation with seven interceptions and 17 pass breakups.

Although he will be facing a higher level of competition in the AAC, Williams' talent will be enough to keep the Cougars from giving up another 6,454 in total yards.

Key Games

  • The University of Houston at Tulane, Thursday, September 19th.
  • SMU at The University of Houston, Thursday, October 24th.
  • Memphis at The University of Houston, Saturday, November 16th

Predictions

Behind the three-headed monster of King, Stevenson, and Carr, the Houston Cougars will have one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football this season. Unfortunately, Houston's play on the defensive side of the ball will remain their Achilles heel throughout 2019. If new head coach Dana Holgorsen can help the Cougars' defense become an above average defensive team, expect Houston to be a serious contender to take home the American Athletic Conference championship this year.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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