Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 8/6/12
HOUSTON Tony Levine didn't actually issue an edict on Monday, but he came pretty close to doing so in declaring the time had come for the Houston Cougars to move beyond their past and embrace their present. After spending the better part of his first offseason as Cougars head coach discussing the departed players largely responsible for the Cougars' 13-win season of a year ago, Levine desired to shift the discussion to the Cougars who filled the Carl Lewis Theater as he addressed local media. This season represents a transitional one of sorts for UH, thus clinging to past glory will only slow the wheels of progress. For the record, Case Keenum, Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier weren't walking through those doors with any eligibility remaining. Neither were Bryce Beall, Michael Haynes or Marcus McGraw. Last year was brilliantly radiant, but with a retooled staff, a new league (Big East) and new stadium (Robertson Stadium will sing its swan song in 2012) on the horizon, Levine is working diligently to help all look ahead. "As I think about the last couple months and all the interviews I have done and most recently getting back from Conference USA media days, I've been asked more about our players that are no longer here than the ones that are coming back," Levine said. "We obviously do have players returning, and we've got something in my opinion, in our opinion, to prove. "We've come off a 13-1 season, and quite frankly that really doesn't mean anything when you're looking at this season." Therein lies the primary challenge facing these new-look Cougars: Humbly accept the backslaps and residual glee of a job well done in 11 while maintaining a steely-eyed focus on continuing the momentum established by the players no longer around to keep that train rolling. If the Cougars long to develop a unique identity, they must win. Beyond the record-setting exploits of their quarterback and their high-powered offense, the Cougars were media darlings last season because they were victorious. They banged on the door of the BCS before a shocking loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game at Robertson Stadium. They wrangled the spotlight from Penn State, which sat in the throes of controversy, by throttling the Nittany Lions in the TicketCity Bowl. The Cougars were resilient and resourceful, but more than that they were successful. Their records and renown were secondary to their victory total, and if Levine aims to distance these players from those he helped lead to prominence under Kevin Sumlin, he'll have to coach em up. Exactly who Levine is as a coach remains somewhat mysterious. He led the Cougars to their victory over Penn State in Dallas on Jan. 2 after Sumlin bolted for Texas A&M, but the circumstances behind that triumph left as many questions as answers. Even now with the program his, Levine is reticent to expose too much of the man behind the quick wit and deadpan delivery. That picture, he says, will be revealed soon enough. "Over time people will get a feel for, OK, this is Coach Levine's style. I can see his philosophy in how the program's being run, how maybe aggressive they are when the ball is being kicked off,'" Levine said. "Over time people will get a better understanding of my philosophy, of my personality and the way we're going to run our program." Even with a new coordinator (Mike Nesbitt) Levine pledged to keep things relatively the same offensively. The receivers are green from Daniel Spencer to Dewayne Peace to Ronnie Williams to Isaiah Sweeney, but there is familiarity elsewhere. Third-year sophomore quarterback David Piland started eight games in place of the injured Keenum two years ago, and junior tailback Charles Sims actually paced the Cougars in rushing last season despite sharing the load with Beall and Haynes. The Cougars return four starters on their line, a significant aid to continuity. Defensively is where the Cougars could improve by leaps and bounds for experience is ample. Cornerbacks D.J. Hayden and Zach McMillian are back to anchor the secondary while outside linebackers Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward will assist middle linebacker Everett Daniels, charged with replacing the popular and productive McGraw. The Cougars will feature six seniors as part of the rotation on the defensive line, including Radermon Scypion and Dominic Miller. If the offense is slow to develop its identity the defense should be quick to mature, at least relative to what was displayed during an uneven 2011. "We believe in what we have on the field right now," McMillian said. "We just want to go out and show the world that's what we can do and just be able to come out and compete every day. That's all we want is an opportunity. That's it. We feel like we can go against anybody with that." Within the confines of the UH locker room, last season has been neatly stored away. If others are slow to that realization, then so be it. The Cougars can understand why some might linger on glory days gone by, even if a new reality is ready to take root with a new coach and players. "It was a good season last year so I expect people to ask questions about last season," Steward said. "But this is a new season, and we're ready to get this season going. "Like Coach Levine said, we're trying to run a good program here. We're trying to show that this is a dynasty and we can keep winning every year." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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