ESPN writer thinks Houston has a legitimate shot at winning the 2016 College Football Playoff

via Houston Athletics

ESPN Insider writer KC Joyner thinks the Houston Cougars are one of eleven college football programs who have a legitimate shot to win the 2016 College Football Playoff. The article is behind a paywall, but here’s a few important quotes.

First on likely 2016 Heisman candidate Greg Ward, Jr.:

Last year, Greg Ward, Jr. had more rushing touchdowns than Dalvin Cook (21 for Ward, 19 for Cook), more 20-yard rushing plays than Ezekiel Elliott, and ranked fourth nationally in percentage of rush plays that gained 5 or more yards among ball carriers with 150 or more carries (51.4 percent). That he did this despite missing most of the games against Memphis and Connecticut indicates that Ward could end up as the most prolific rushing quarterback in college football in 2016 if he stays healthy for the entire campaign.

On Ward’s fit in the offense:

In the Peach Bowl, Florida State found out what many of Houston’s opponents had already stumbled upon: Greg Ward Jr. is very good. Herman’s system is nearly as impactful through the air, as Ward ranked ninth nationally in completion percentage (67.2) tied for 12th nationally in Total QBR (80.3) and tied for 18th in vertical Total QBR (92.6 on aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield).

Interesting stats:

Houston ranked 10th in the nation in points per game (40.4) last year, despite having four freshman offensive linemen who racked up more than 2,100 combined offensive snaps.

Houston’s gritty offensive line:

…experience should make this group even better in 2016. Will Noble could end up contending for All-American consideration, as he made the 2015 true freshman All-American team last season in part due to grading out as the best Houston offensive lineman, according to the Cougars coaching staff.

On the Third Ward D:

…the Cougars do bring back four of their top six tackles-for-loss defensive players, and 23 of their 36 sacks from last season. Add that to the potential for increased impact play volume from defensive lineman Nick Thurman, who had five tackles for loss despite being on the field for only 46.9 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps, and cornerback Howard Wilson (four picks over the past two years despite playing only 21.3 percent of defensive snaps in that time frame), and the Cougars may be in solid shape on this side of the ball.

On Houston’s schedule:

Houston has one of the easiest schedules in college football this year. That would bode well for an undefeated campaign, which would probably be necessary for the Cougars to make the College Football Playoff… the key to the whole year: Beating Oklahoma in the season opener is a must…. if Houston can turn this into a fast-paced battle, it could be enough to vault the Cougars to this all-important win.

Bottom line

The Cougars ranked 11th in Mark Schlabach’s most recent Way-Too-Early-Top 25. With that as a barometer for their 2016 ranking starting point, if the Cougars run the table, it should move them high enough in the rankings to convince the College Football Playoff committee that their postseason time has arrived. Once there, Houston can follow the lead of last season’s playoff clubs and use fast-paced football as a path to playoff victories.