HOUSTON (AP) Houston’s biggest offseason addition wasn’t a player or coach.
The Cougars will christen $120 million TDECU Stadium on Aug. 29 against UTSA. The on-campus, 40,000-seat venue comes with all the amenities – a 2,584-square-foot video scoreboard, 42 luxury boxes and a 5,000-square-foot locker room. The northwest corner is open to offer a clear view of the Houston skyline.
During construction, Houston played five home games at Reliant, now NRG Stadium, and two at BBVA Compass Stadium where the MLS Houston Dynamo play. Coach Tony Levine said just having a permanent, on-campus home will give the Cougars a psychological lift. Houston plays four of its first five games at home.
”Last year was interesting and challenging, in terms of not having a real home,” Levine said. ”It’s so good to be back on campus. Any time you’re talking about 18- to 22-year-olds, it’s important for them to get into a routine. It’s also nice when you’re talking about the energy of the fan base and a place where students can easily attend the games. It’s all positive.”
The weekly travel last season had its snags, and the Cougars took them in stride. When the team traveled to San Antonio to play the Roadrunners, the team buses dropped them off at the wrong hotel. The players simply picked up their bags and walked two blocks to the right hotel.
”People talk about how going on the road every week was a negative,” Levine said. ”We took it as an additional chip on our shoulder. That experience, at least in their minds, and finding a way to win eight games, that will help us this season.”
The Cougars will hold their first practice in their new home on Saturday night.
Here are five things to look for as Levine begins his third full season at Houston:
OK O’KORN: John O’Korn took over the starting quarterback role when David Piland went down with a concussion in the second game. O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns and was named the American Athletic Conference rookie of the year. Levine says O’Korn has shown during training camp that he’s ready to handle a larger load.
”He was an 18-year-old freshman who was thrown into the starting role,” Levine said. ”We certainly didn’t give him free rein to the whole playbook. We wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with what we were calling. Now, he’s been in our program a year, he’s gone through spring practice, he’s got the entire playbook at his disposal. He feels comfortable and we feel comfortable with him.”
BIG PLAY DEONTAY: Big-play receiver Deontay Greenberry also returns after leading the conference in yards receiving (1,202) and ranking second in TD catches (11). At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Greenberry already has the size to impress NFL scouts.
OUT OF AGGIELAND: The already-deep defensive line got a boost when Texas A&M defensive end Gavin Stansbury transferred in. The 6-4, 255-pound Stansbury made 47 tackles, including three sacks, for the Aggies in 2013.
STEAL CITY: Houston led the nation in takeaways (43) and turnover margin (plus-25) in 2013, and the two safeties who made most of the plays are back. Trevon Stewart led the nation with 10 takeaways and Adrian McDonald intercepted six passes, ranking seventh nationally. Despite generating so many turnovers, Houston gave up 416 yards per game.
THE BOOT: Levine is still deciding between Logan Piper and Dylan Seibert as the successor to punter Richie Leone, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. Leone was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award in three straight years. He had 73 punts for an average of 43.2 yards last season.