Cougars Extra Points: Next stop, Big 12

The University of Houston stumbled Saturday night, falling to Tulsa 37-30 in the school’s final game in the American Athletic Conference.

There’s plenty of things to do – and a lot of conversations to have – in the next seven months before the Cougars officially join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023.

A look at some of the key issues that confront the Cougars as they get set to make the transition:

Next stop: Big 12

The next time the Cougars take the field at TDECU Stadium for the Sept. 3 opener against UTSA, it will be as members of the Big 12.

The Big 12 plans to release the 2023 football schedule in early December. A source told the Houston Chronicle in October that UH will host TCU in its inaugural Big 12 game. The ’23 schedule will also include a visit by Texas, which won’t move, along with Oklahoma, until 2025.

What’s next for UH?

With the NCAA-mandated recruiting “dead” period during conference championship game week, the Cougars coaching staff will spend the upcoming week holding internal meetings with players. The team’s bowl destination will be announced Dec. 4, if not earlier.

“I don’t know what December looks like yet,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Recruiting can resume on Dec. 4. The early signing period runs from Dec. 21-23.

“We’re able to go out, and we’ll be out,” Holgorsen said. “We’ll go out and give them our best pitch and do whatever we can do to bring Big 12-caliber players in here.”

With a lengthy injury report, Holgorsen said it would not be in “our best interest to practice” during the next week in preparation for a bowl.

For many years, teams could use a bowl appearance to get an extra 15 practices, which often would be used to get an early start on developing younger players for the following season. Because of bowl dates – UH is projected to play anywhere from mid-to-late December – and players finishing semester exams, Holgorsen said it’s more likely the Cougars will hold 4 to 5 bowl workouts.

“Once the season is over there’s just not a lot of time,” he said. “The whole developmental thing with the bowl game, I think those days are gone.”

Another key date: Dec. 5. That’s the day players can enter the transfer portal. Part of the internal talks with players will be to determine how much eligibility each player has, a confusing exercise with some players getting a bonus year due to COVID.

“We’ll sit down and talk with each and every one of them,” Holgorsen said.

One more year?

UH wide receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell has a decision to make: return for his final season of eligibility or make himself eligible for the NFL draft.

Dell, a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award with career highs in receptions (103), yards (1,354) and touchdown catches (15), declined to discuss his future after Saturday’s game.

“I’ve got a decision to make,” Dell said. “I don’t want to speak about it now.”

‘Dirt needs to start moving’

The biggest athletic project on the current docket is the planning for the football operations building. Construction is expected to begin next June, according to Holgorsen.

“Dirt needs to start moving if we want it to impact recruiting,” he said. “June 2023 sounds like forever, but there’s a lot planning.”

UH continues to raise money for the project through the Houston RISE campaign. The original cost was $75 million but rising construction costs have raised the price tag.

“What the original price tag was has been cranked up,” Holgorsen said. “Quite a bit, as in $20-$30-$40 million more just based on construction cost.”

The facility will be built on the west side adjacent to TDECU Stadium.

“I’ve compared what we have, compared to what the other teams in the Big 12 have, and we’re clearly on the low end,” Holgorsen said. “That’s going to have to grow as well. This adjustment isn’t going to happen overnight.”

To opt-in … or opt-out?

As the Cougars prepare for a bowl appearance, Holgorsen admits he’s unsure what his roster will look like for the game.

“How many of our players are going to play? I don’t know,” he said.

In what has been a recent trend across college football, star players from teams, not playing in the College Football Playoff, have opted to sit out the bowl game to begin preparation for the NFL draft. Quarterback Clayton Tune and safety Gervarrius Owens are considered two of the Cougars’ best chances to be taken in the draft.

Last season, defensive lineman Logan Hall and All-American kick returner/cornerback Marcus Jones opted to sit out the Birmingham Bowl against Auburn.

Find a quarterback

With the graduation of Tune, the Cougars will have a new quarterback when they begin Big 12 play.

Two quarterbacks remain on the roster: Lucas Coley, a redshirt freshman transfer from Arkansas, and sophomore Holman Edwards. Coley moved into the backup spot during UH’s open date in early October.

Coley has played in three games, mostly in mop-up time, this season.

“Lucas is young, and we don’t know what he’s going to be yet,” Holgorsen said. “The more snaps we can give him the better. He’s a hard worker. What’s it going to look like when it’s live bullets? I don’t know.”

Coley will benefit from a full offseason and will likely get plenty of reps during spring practice.

“I don’t know what it’s going to look like until we actually get him in an offseason,” Holgorsen said. “He needs to go through an offseason, he needs to go through the spring and then he needs live snaps to see where he’s at.”

The Cougars will sign one high school quarterback – Caleb McMickle of Roswell, Ga. – as part of the 2023 class. There is also the likelihood Holgorsen will explore the transfer portal for an experienced quarterback.

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