In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” we catch up with our longtime friend Sam Razz, co-host of the Scott and Holman Pawdcast, which is the Cadillac of University of Houston Cougars podcasts.
Sam and his co-host Dustin Rensink cover Cougars athletics comprehensively every week on their fantastic program. Check out our 2017 interview with the pair from season one of “Conversations with Clayton.”
In this brand new interview, Sam and I discuss the outlook for Houston football in 2018, the pleasures of attending a Tulane football game and the worst seats he’s ever had at a sporting event.
Clayton Trutor (CT): At this point in his tenure, what grade would you give Major Applewhite?
Sam Razz (SR): C, maybe C+ if I’m in a good mood. The 2015-16 seasons were incredible to varying degrees and no matter who UH hired, expecting 12-13 wins every year is unrealistic. That being said, Applewhite was involved in the offense to the offense’s detriment a year ago. Specifically they did a poor job adjusting the scheme to the skill-set of now-departed Kyle Allen. Imagine an offense that calls a zone read play with a prototypical pocket passer QB multiple times and you have last year’s UH offense. Kyle Postma was a good back-up, but his flaws were pretty obvious when he was asked to start games. The offense looked a little more coherent when D’Eriq King took over for the last several weeks, but it wasn’t exactly innovative. He hasn’t done a bad job, but nothing Applewhite’s done has been anything above average so far.
CT: How many wins do you envision for the Cougars this year?
SR: I feel pretty comfortable about something in the 9-10 win range, and if you really want to push me for a number I’ll say 10. The defense returns Ed Oliver plus some underrated multi-year starters (Jerard Carter and Garrett Davis just to name a couple). The program also brings in two grad transfers (Nick Watkins-Notre Dame and Darrion Owens-Miami) and two blue chip transfers from other FBS schools (Deontay Anderson-Ole Miss and Isaiah Chambers-TCU) who should all start on defense. Terrence Williams, a Baylor grad transfer, is also very familiar with the scheme this offensive staff will run and should be the starter at running back.
If you’re judging the new OC hire just on football merits, it’s a good one. I expect King will fit great in an offense that’ll let him show off his abundant arm talent and improvisational running ability. The Coogs were five points away from winning the AAC West last year in a definitely mediocre season. So I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion to say they’ll be among the teams near the top of the division this year.
CT: Will Ed Oliver finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting?
SR: Yes, but lower than he should be. Ed Oliver had a season that is statistically comparable with the one Ndamukong Suh had in his unbelievable 2009 season… AS A TRUE FRESHMAN! Oliver can single handedly take over a game against really good offenses when healthy. I’d be happy for him if he got serious Heisman consideration, but if Suh didn’t come close to winning in 2009, I doubt this year will be any different.
CT: Which of Houston’s non-conference games causes you the most concern?
SR: Arizona is probably the best team on the non-conference schedule, but I am going to actually pick Texas Tech. My reasoning is that this will be the first road game of the year and the Red Raider defense will challenge the Coogs more than their first two opponents. Rice and the aforementioned Arizona were both abysmal on defense last year and even accounting for possible improvement, aren’t units that will strike fear into any opponent.
The Red Raiders aren’t the 1985 Chicago Bears, but they have a good defensive coordinator (former UH DC David Gibbs) who will attack an unproven offensive line. There will also be the unknown of how UH reacts to playing away from Houston, hence I have more concern about this game than the other three non-conference games.
CT: What’s your outlook for the AAC as a whole this year?
SR: This league will be the best outside of the “power 5” as it has been consistently the last few years. Memphis will be UH’s toughest competition in the West division until proven otherwise, even with the departures of Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller. I think UCF has a tough act to follow and are dealing with a coaching change, but it’s hard to see them doing much worse than 10-11 wins. I wasn’t super impressed with USF’s first year under Charlie Strong and now they go into this year without Quinton Flowers. I am really high on Temple making a big leap in their second year [under Geoff Collins] and at least challenging in the East division. I am still high, but slightly less on Tulane who I am not sure will contend for the West but I am pretty sure will be bowling in 2018. I didn’t love the Sonny Dykes hire for SMU, but I expect the Ponies to be around 5-7 wins once again. There are a lot of unknowns with Luke Fickell and Cincy still, but I think anyone who took that job after Tuberville was going to spend a year or two digging out of that mess. I am probably higher than anyone on Navy coming into 2018. Malcolm Perry running the Navy flexbone is going to provide a level of explosiveness they haven’t seen since Reynolds. UConn, ECU and Tulsa will also field football teams this fall. If I had to pick any of those teams to surprise and flirt with bowl eligibility, it’d be Tulsa.
CT: Who is going to be the breakout player on Houston’s roster this year?
SR: I suppose D’Eriq King is too obvious of a choice here. I mentioned Isaiah Chambers briefly earlier and he’s my pick here. Chambers will be starting next to Oliver along the defensive line and is one of three class of 2016 top 100 recruits starting on the defensive [side] (Oliver and Deontay Anderson are the others). Out of high school Chambers signed with TCU and redshirted his first year there before transferring to UH to be near his gravely ill guardian (his aunt) in the Houston area. I’ll acknowledge that basing any serious analysis off of a spring game is a fool’s errand, but Chambers had a monster performance at the Red & White game and I feel reasonably confident alongside Oliver he’ll be one of this team’s biggest breakout players in 2018.
CT: What are your favorite and least favorite football stadiums in the AAC?
SR: I’ll preface by saying I have not been to: Cincy, ECU, Temple, UCF, Navy and Memphis. So I can only judge the stadiums I have physically been to in this conference.
Best: Tulane. I love the intimacy and sightlines of the venue and you can’t beat New Orleans.
Worst: USF. Don’t get me wrong Raymond James Stadium seems to be a good enough pro stadium and I liked the abundance of cheap parking at RJ when I attended a game there. But it’s such a horrendous fit for USF who deserves a near-campus or on-campus stadium that’s more size appropriate (30 to 40,000 or somewhere thereabouts) for their football program.
CT: What is your favorite book about sports?
SR: “Friday Night Lights” by Buzz Bissinger. I would imagine most football fans are at least familiar in passing with this book. It’s an amazing look at West Texas high school football power Permian High School of Odessa, Texas. The author is embedded with the players and coaches of the team for the 1988 season. It’s set during the immediate aftermath of the Texas oil boom and the ensuing bust which affected every corner of Texas and as you see in the book particularly Odessa. The story is unbelievably gripping and the movie version doesn’t come close to doing it justice. I would recommend the book to sports fans and non-sports fans.
CT: If you were a minor league baseball player, what would be your walk-up music?
SR: “Pickin’ Wildflowers” by Keith Anderson. I am absolutely not a fan of country music, but this song has a really good, catchy guitar riff at the beginning and I think that’s a must for a good walk-up song. It was the one-time walk-up song of UH baseball alum Blake Kelso during his time here and that’s why I even know about it.
CT: Describe the worst seats you’ve ever had at a sporting event.
SR: I vowed to myself if I could find tickets under $30 for this past spring’s basketball game with Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin I’d drive 30 minutes north and attend the game. It looked to be a decent match-up and the game featured two guys who were locks to be lottery picks (Mo Bamba and Trey Young). I found seats via a third party seller for under $30 at the very top row of the Erwin Center and watched a fairly compelling game from an insanely far distance from the court.
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