Let's address one thing immediately: If you think the Houston Cougars are a textbook example of one of the Sisters of the Poor, you are very wrong.
This is most certainly not your typical East Popcorn State. Much to the contrary, Houston is a good team with good coaching. Head coach Art Briles has been in Houston for four years now, and he's already led the Cougars to three bowl trips. 2006 was the best year thus far for Briles and his Cougars, as they won ten games on their way to a Conference USA championship, almost beat South Carolina in the Liberty Bowl, and put some guys in the NFL (Kevin Kolb, mainly). They are only 2-2 at the moment this year, but they have generally looked pretty good and most expect them to make another bowl appearance. They very well may repeat as C-USA champions.
Now make no mistake about it, Houston is an offensive team. That's how they win games, and that's how they define themselves as a team, end of story. But I don't even know where in hell to begin with this system. For one, exactly what do they run? Well, no one really knows. It's not a run and shoot, though it might remind some of it. It's not the Texas Tech Air Raid, though it might remind some of that, too. I frankly don't know what the hell it is, and neither does Coach Saban. When asked to define it, the best he could come up with was "diverse."
The truth is, this whole offense is just something that Briles has worked up in his head. It's basically nothing more than a figment of his imagination. Growing up as an assistant, he was a veer guy, and when he took his first head coaching job he ran the wishbone. Then he finally decided that if he were really going to out-smart people in terms of x's and o's, he had to put the quarterback in the shotgun and spread the field. So that's what he did, and he's been adding and subtracting stuff from it for almost twenty years now.
Beyond that, though, it's hard to describe. They do everything with a single back out of the shotgun, and the offensive line takes very wide splits. Their tailback is very quick and those wide splits give him a lot of room to run, but if you try to stack the box in him, they can beat you on the edge with the passing game. It's just an odd-ball attack, no two ways about it. Hell, these guys don't even have a playbook, and I'm dead serious when I say that, they literally have no playbook whatsoever. Players come into Houston and they "visually learn" the system in a redshirt year by working on the scout team. This attack is just crazy, and the players absolutely love it. Read some of their comments, they are blown away by this system, they love running it, and they all think Briles is an absolute genius.
And what can you say? He seemingly is, this system works extremely well. Everyone said they would fall apart when Kevin Kolb went to the NFL after 2006, but after four games in 2007 they are averaging almost 500 yards per game and almost 35 points per game, despite not having a clear-cut starter at quarterback.
The truth is that this system is very, very hard to defend. Joe Kines said a couple of weeks ago that the biggest enemy you have as a defense is air, and that's what Briles and Houston attack. They spread the field and force you to cover some extremely fast players in space, and that's a very tough thing to do defensively. The slightest mistake is going to make it very likely that you are going to give up a pretty big play.
Defensively, though, Houston has some flaws. I wouldn't say they are a terrible defensive team, but they aren't particularly good either. They aren't great against the pass, but their pass defense looks pretty good because they haven't really faced anyone that could throw it. Oregon is the only team that could really throw it, and they didn't have to because they ran it down their throats (over 300 rushing yards). The run defense, though, is really the bad part. They gave up 339 rushing yards in the aforementioned game against Oregon, and East Carolina's Chris Johnson ran for almost 150 yards against them last week.
In terms of special teams, they really aren't that good in that department. Punter Chase Turner is a big guy (he'll remind many 'Bama fans of former UA punter Bo Freeland), and much like Freeland he'll occasionally boom a kick, but all in all he's not particularly good. Moreover, Houston's punt return defense has struggled greatly all year, allowing over ten yards per return, and that will open up some opportunities for Arenas, who has gone incognito the past couple of weeks. T.J. Lawrence looked like a decent kicker, but he went 0-3 last week against East Carolina, and that cost them that game.
All in all though, this is a solid football team, and we'll need to play pretty good football. It is of the utmost importance that the offense does well in this game, because you can almost bet the farm that with Houston's explosive offense they are going to put up a fair amount of points against the Crimson Tide. Another impotent afternoon from the Tide offense, and we may be in trouble.
So, to sum up: Houston is not East Popcorn State. This is a solid football team, and we'll need to play pretty good football to knock them off. The fans are definitely overlooking this game. Let's hope the players and coaches aren't doing the same thing, otherwise it could be a long and painful day for those who bleed crimson.