UH's Briles looking for quarterback in his first season as coach

Updated: August 12, 2003, 6:38 PM ET

HOUSTON -- The Houston Cougars can't wait to spring their new offense on college football.

Forget that they don't have a quarterback who's thrown a college pass. Sophomore Blade Bassler, the likely starter, is ready to start slinging anyway, beginning Aug. 30 against crosstown rival Rice.

"It's going to be wild," Bassler said. "I get excited just talking about it."

The Cougars have been working hard to learn the multiple offense devised by first-year coach Art Briles, a UH alum whose system led Stephenville to four state championships. He spent the last few seasons as the running backs coach at Texas Tech.

Now Houston, birthplace of the Veer and once the bastion of the run-and-shoot, is hoping Briles' brand of offense will be the next big thing.

"We really don't have a name for it, it's just multiple," Briles said. "It takes a few reps for me to get into it and get rolling, but the players have taken to it really well. It's an ongoing process. We just have to stay healthy and stay together."

Briles' offense will depend on quarterback and receiver being able to read defenses and coming up with the same decisions. It's also quick-hitting and tries to create mismatches in the secondary.

"The quarterback and receiver have to be on the same page," Bassler said. "If I see a hot route, he's got to see it, too. We've worked on it this summer. We're getting a feel for it."

The offense has similarities to the run-and-shoot that coaches Jack Pardee and John Jenkins had starting in the late 1980s.

The last big season for the Cougars was in 1990 under Jenkins, who used the run-and-shoot to lead the Cougars to a 10-1 record and a No. 10 national ranking.

Wide receiver Brandon Middleton, who averaged 20.3 yards on kickoff returns and 24.3 yards per reception last year, thinks the nameless offense will help the Cougar improve on last year's 5-7 record under coach Dana Dimel.

"It's going to be a headache for defenses that try to match up and try to isolate players," Middleton said. "I been in four different offensive schemes and this is something totally off from what I'm accustomed to."

All this optimism is going to depend on Briles' teaching skills and how quickly the Cougars can adapt.

They thought they were on their way last season, finishing strong with a victory over Louisville.

Then Dimel was dismissed and the momentum was broken. The Cougars have had just two winning seasons in the last 13 years and they're starting over with a new system and a new coach.

"We came in 1999 and this is our third head coach," Middleton said. "It was like, 'Here we go again.' We talked to the young guys and told them we'd been through it before and we can only control what we can control. We've made the adjustment."

The Cougars return eight defensive and five offensive starters. Briles' biggest challenge will be deciding on a starting quarterback.

Bassler and freshman Kevin Kolb of Stephenville top the depth chart.

Nick Eddy and Barrick Nealy, who took turns at quarterback last season, are out of the picture. Nealy failed academically and Nealy transferred to Texas State (formerly Southwest Texas State).

"The only comfort is knowing that we have people capable of doing the job and all we need to do is find out who that person will be," Briles said. "We feel good about both players.

"Blade had a little work in the spring. He has a lot of natural ability. We'll see how he can control the offense. Kolb is another big kid with athleticism and he's strong in the offense."

After hosting the Owls in their opener in 30,000-seat Robertson Stadium, the Cougars will play before 100,000-plus fans at Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Rice is our No. 1 goal, but then it's going to be 109,000 in the Big House," Bassler said. "It's something I've never experienced."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index