Houston hosts Southern University to open season

HOUSTON (AP) — The quarterback competition appears to be settled at Houston.

Coach Tony Levine named junior David Piland the starter last week, though freshman John O’Korn will also see some playing time in the opener against Southern today.

“We’re going to go into this game with a specific plan at quarterback like we do all positions and then take it from there,” Levine said when asked about the plan for Piland and O’Korn this year.

Houston has had a tough time finding a replacement for Case Keenum. Two years removed from Keenum heading to the NFL with the Houston Texans, the Cougars, who finished 5-7 last season after starting 0-3, are hoping that they will get off to a better start in 2013.

Piland started eight games in 2010 as a freshman in place of Keenum, who was out with an injury, before redshirting in 2011. Piland played in 11 games last season, with 10 starts.

Piland is 6-12 in his career as a starter, throwing for 5,570 yards, 40 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, including 2,929 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.

Levine opened up the starting quarterback job this year between Piland, O’Korn, freshman Greg Ward, Jr., sophomore Bram Kohlhausen and junior college transfer Billy Kosh. Five things to know about Southern-Houston:

NEW COORDINATORS: Levine replaced both the offensive and defensive coordinators in the offseason. After Houston’s defense allowed more than 30 points in eight of the team’s 12 games last season, Levine brought in David Gibbs to lead the defense. Gibbs last was a defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2005 where the Tigers ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense and 11th in sacks. On offense, Levine hired Oklahoma State’s Doug Meacham, part of a Cowboys offense that averaged at least 40 points in five of his eight seasons.

SOUTHERN’S POTENT OFFENSE: Southern, which plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, brings back starting quarterback Dray Joseph, leading receiver Lee Doss and second-leading running back Darrius Coleman from a year ago. Joseph threw for 2,516 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions for the Jaguars in 2012, while Doss caught 65 passes for 703 yards and eight touchdowns. Coleman played in only seven games last season but ran for 183 yards on 54 carries. The Jaguars averaged nearly 24 points a game last season.

NEW LOOK RUNNING GAME: Houston lost leading running back Charles Sims, who transferred to West Virginia after rushing for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games last year. Sophomores Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson will team in the backfield to lead the Cougars. Farrow rushed for 466 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries last season, while Jackson had 252 yards and three scores on 59 carries.

“It’s exciting because we both know the game pretty well,” Farrow said about teaming up with Jackson in the backfield. “We both can pick up the blitz, and it’s going good being back there with him. We each have goals we set for each other, and it’ll be fun to go out there and make big explosive plays.”

HIGH EXPECTATIONS IN THE SWAC: After finishing last season 4-7 and 3-6 in the SWAC, the Jaguars enter their second season under coach Dawson Odums with hopes of reaching the SWAC championship. The Jaguars, who were picked to finish second in the West Division behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff, finished last season with a 38-33 win over Grambling State. Odums became the second coach in Southern history to defeat Grambling, Jackson State and Florida A&M in the first year as coach.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME IN A NEW HOME: The Cougars will play their first game in the new American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) after leaving Conference USA where they played for 17 years. While Houston has its on-campus stadium rebuilt in time to be ready for the 2014 season, the Cougars will play their first home game at Reliant Stadium, which is home to the NFL’s Houston Texans.

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