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10 things to know as the University of Houston prepares for their opener against Oklahoma

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By Dayon Dunlap/KPRC Contributor

The only way a non-power 5 conference team can make the College Football National Playoff is to stack up wins against quality opponents.

Houston travels to Norman, Oklahoma to play the fourth-ranked Sooners in the season opener. 

Here are 10 things to keep in mind. 

1. Dana Holgorsen is an offensive guru

Dana Holgorsen will assume play calling duties as head coach this year. Every season Holgorsen leads a nationally-ranked high power offense. That will not stop this year with all of the talent the Cougars have returning on offense.

Last time Holgorsen coached at UH his offense led the nation in total offense per game with 403.2 yards per game. Holgorsen has coached some good college quarterbacks, but none as explosive as D'Eriq King. King is prototype dual threat quarterback, that can beat you with his arm, and legs. Houston returns their top five receivers, and top three rushers from a season ago.

2. Replacing consecutive Heisman winners at quarterback

Last year's 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray passed for 4,361 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 1,137 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman winner passed for 4,627 yards, added 311 rushing yards, plus five touchdowns. Jalen Hurts won the quarterback battle, to replace the two Heisman winners. Doubters do not believe Hurts can pass as proficient as his two predecessors did. Hurts has plenty to prove.

3. New defensive coordinator brings new 4-2-5 scheme

Joe Cauthen joined Holgorsen staff as the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach, coming over from Arkansas State. During the 2018 season Arkansas State was one of the toughest defenses to pass against, finishing the season 11th nationally in passing defense, allowing only 177.8 passing yards per game. The Houston defense allowed 275.5 passing yards per game, while giving up an average of 57.8 points in their losses last season.

Cornerbacks coach Zac Etheridge said "anytime someone puts the ball down, no matter who it is they line up in front of we have that mentality that we can dominate." There will be a lot of new faces on the defense this year. Houston added 11 defensive players this offseason. 

4. Will OU have to outscore all of their opponents? 

Oklahoma is paying new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch $1.4 million a season. Last season, the Sooners defense ranked 102nd nationally in yards allowed per play. Their defense gave up more than 45 points in five games last year, and over 500 yards in both of their losses.

Grinch has made creating turnovers, and playing fast, an  emphasis throughout the offseason. 

5. Lots of weapons returning on offense 

The Cougars return their top five receivers: Marquez Stevenson (1,019 yards, 9 TD), Keith Corbin (691 yards, 10 TD), Courtney Lark (539 yards, 5 TD), Bryson Smith (285 yards, 4 TD), and Jeremy Singleton (285 yards, 2 TD). Also, their top three rushers returning: Patrick Carr (893 yards, 5 TD), D'Eriq King (784 yards, 14 TD), and Mulbah Car (334 yards 2 TD). All centered around star quarterback King, (2.982 passing yards, 36 TD). Holgorsen said he expects a breakout season from sophomore tight end Christian Trahan. Houston added Texas Longhorns transfer running back Kyle Porter as well. 

6. OU will be a run first offense

Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley will undoubtedly produce another spectacular offense in Oklahoma this season with Hurts leading the way. The sooners have the potential to have three 1,000 yard rushers this season.

Kennedy Brooks returns after rushing for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns. Also, Trey Sermon returns coming off of a 972 rushing yard season adding 13 touchdowns. Expect the Sooners to lean heavy on the run and to set up deep passes to Ceedee Lamb. 

7. Experience returning on the backend of secondary

Gleson Sprewell had a breakout season last year, leading the team in interceptions with three, and finishing third on the team in tackles (81).  Deontay Anderson finished fourth on the team with 72 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble. The Cougars' defense a year ago allowed the second-most passing yards (3,582) in program history. The safety tandem will look to force more turnovers, and limit big plays over the top. 

8.  Playoff implications for both teams

For Oklahoma loses, their chances of getting into the college football playoff race, will be hurt. The Sooners have made the college football playoffs the last two seasons, losing both semi-final games.

No team has lost to a non -power 5 team and still made the playoffs. On the other hand, not one non-power 5 conference team has made the playoffs. If Houston beats Oklahoma, plus remain unbeaten all season they'll have a good resume for the playoffs. The Cougars have three teams on their schedule ranked inside the Associated Press Top 25. 

9. Will D'Eriq King reign supreme?

Coming off of a record-setting season, accounting for 50 total touchdowns while missing the last two games, Holgorsen said this about his QB: "he's (King) has been chomping at the bit to be turned loose…. When he turns it loose it looks pretty good."

King has been named to six preseason award lists, including Maxwell, and the Manning award. The offensive line returns both tackles, seniors Josh Jones (36 starts) and Jarrid Williams (13 starts). Houston also added two graduated transfers' guards from UCLA and Texas Tech, respectively, Josh Murphy and Gio Pancotti. The main question surrounding King is will he be able to stay healthy for a full season. 

10. Jalen Hurts vs. D'Eriq King part two

Last time the two quarterbacks played against each other King's Manvel team got the best of Hurt's Chennelview team 71-21. Since then the two quarterbacks have had completely different journeys leading into their senior seasons.

Hurts became a star in his first two seasons starting at Alabama, before being benched at halftime of College Football Playoff National Championship game two years ago.

King's first two seasons were spent as a wide receiver/quarterback for Houston. A stellar junior season put King on the map as a bonafide star at quarterback.