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November 17, 2011
A few weeks ago, Houston was rolling along, unbeaten but also anonymous.
Things have changed.
Boise State's surprising home loss to TCU means Houston is the non-AQ team in the spotlight now, The Cougars (10-0) are 11th in this week's BCS standings, and if they finish unbeaten, they will become the first Conference USA team to play in the BCS.
Houston's schedule is back-loaded - to the extent that the Cougars' first truly tough game of the season is this week at home against SMU. Houston's best win so far is over either UCLA or Louisiana Tech.
But after Saturday's game with SMU, Houston finishes the regular season with a road game at Tulsa (7-3). A win over the Golden Hurricane would give the Cougars the C-USA West title (that is the case regardless of whether Houston beats SMU) and a date with the East Division champ - almost certainly Southern Miss (9-1) in the league's championship game.
It's all about offense for Houston. With senior quarterback Case Keenum at the helm, the Cougars lead the nation in total offense (628.8 yards per game), passing offense (455.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (54.7 points per game).
Keenum is going to graduate with NCAA career records in total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions. This season, he has Houston on a pace to set NCAA single-season records for points, total offense and passing yardage.
Houston got a lot of attention in 2009, when it opened 3-0 thanks to wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. But the Cougars ended up losing four games that season, including a loss to East Carolina in the C-USA title game. Last season, there was a lot of preseason hype for the Cougars, but Keenum was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in Game 3 ands the Cougars limped to a 5-7 record. This season, there was no preseason hype, but here the Cougars are.
[Video: Houston should be on upset alert]
Sumlin said he thinks the travails of last season have helped forged this season's team.
"Sometimes dealing with success is more difficult than dealing with failure," Sumlin said in his weekly news conference. "Fortunately, we have a group of guys who have been through this before. I am not just talking about the seniors, but also the juniors who were here two years ago. We went from no attention to overnight attention. Unless you have been through it, it can be hard to handle."
The attention this week includes the news that ESPN's "GameDay" crew will be in Houston. This will be the first time a C-USA school has hosted "GameDay" since it was held at Army on Sept. 27, 2003.
"For our university it is fantastic," Sumlin said. "? It is great, especially for recruiting. It validates what we are trying to do. We want to compete for championships and be a top-25 program."
Saturday's opposing coach knows all about taking a relative upstart to the BCS. June Jones was coach at Hawaii when the Warriors went to the Sugar Bowl after the 2007 season.
Jones has done a nice job rebuilding SMU since he arrived after that season. He has rebuilt SMU to the point where this season has been a mild disappointment.
[Video: Does Houston deserve a BCS bid?]
SMU is 6-4, but the Mustangs started 5-1, including a 40-33 overtime victory at TCU. But after that hot start, SMU has lost three of its past four, with the lone win in that span coming over a woeful Tulane squad.
Surprisingly for a Jones-coached team, SMU has struggled throwing the ball. In its four losses, SMU has four TD passes but eight interceptions; indeed, for the season, Mustangs quarterbacks have thrown 14 touchdown passes and 16 picks.
The one offensive constant for SMU has been junior running back Zach Line, who is sixth nationally in rushing at 122.4 yards per game. He has eight 100-yard performances this season, including 120 against TCU and 163 against Southern Miss. But Line has a toe injury, and SMU is saying he will be a game-time decision Saturday.
It seems likely he'll play, and good news for Line is that Houston's run defense isn't much; the Cougars allow 184.1 rushing yards per game, and Jones is savvy enough to know that the longer the Mustangs control the ball, the less time Houston's prolific offense spends on the field.
SMU is 6-0 this season when scoring at least 21 points, but Houston has won eight of the past nine in the series.
Best matchup: Army run offense vs. Temple run defense. Army leads the nation in rushing offense at 352.0 yards per game, but it could be without starting QB Trent Steelman, who has been banged up. Temple has been good against the run, surrendering just 102.8 yards per game. In addition, the Owls have allowed just four of their 10 opponents to rush for more than 92 yards and just one (Ohio U.) to rush for more than 157. Worth noting: Three of the four teams to rush for at least 92 yards on the Owls have beaten them.
[Bowl projections: Is Houston headed for a BCS game?]
Player on the spot: Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron. Cameron has been steady since becoming the starter on Oct. 29 against San Jose State. He threw for 376 yards and four TDs when the Bulldogs beat Fresno State, and he is going to have to at least approach that type of production if they're to win Saturday at Nevada, which has won 16 in a row at home. Cameron and WR Quinton Patton have teamed up for four TD passes in the past three games, and TB Hunter Lee has provided a spark in the rushing attack. Cameron is going to have to make plays through the air against Nevada, which leads the WAC (but is 60th nationally) in pass defense.
Keep an eye on: Hawaii's pass offense. Senior QB Bryant Moniz has been lost for the season with a broken leg. Senior Shane Austin, who came on for Moniz in last week's loss to Nevada, could get the start Saturday against Fresno State, which would be the second of his career. Sophomore David Graves is the other possibility; it would be his first career start. Hawaii doesn't run the ball well, so the quarterbacks (both likely will play, regardless of who starts) have to be sharp. Fresno State's pass defense has been shaky this season; the Bulldogs have allowed 17 TD passes and have just four picks.
Numbers game: Houston became the first team in C-USA history to top the 70-point mark twice in the same season when it won 73-17 at Tulane last Thursday. The Cougars also scored 73 points against Rice on Oct. 27. Houston has scored at least 49 points in seven consecutive games and at least 56 in five games in a row.
Quotes of the week
"It was disappointing and frustrating. When you have somebody on the mat and you're in a position to take them down and you don't and you allow them to fight back, it's hard to swallow. That was this game. I know we're growing and improving, but we've got to learn how to finish games and put people away." - Memphis coach Larry Porter, whose team blew a 35-17 fourth-quarter lead and lost to UAB last week
"Late starts are not my favorite. However, it is a trade-off that I would make ? every time now in relation to the exposure. I didn't feel like that at one time. In the Mountain West, we had a huge push to play when college football is supposed to be played and is Saturdays at ? 1 p.m. The feedback now from so many people having seen us play is I am willing to endure a long day to have people see us." - BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, whose game Saturday kicks off at 8:15 p.m. local time in Provo
"I don't know that the emotion is really an issue. It's when you become emotional. I think emotions are fine because it's your last home game, and you should feel those things naturally. I think when you get emotional is where you can run into problems." - Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, on his players being able to handle "Senior Day" on Saturday
"I think it's understandable. We are a three-loss team. As much as we'd like to put some kind of graded scale on there, a sliding scale, you don't get bonus points because you get beat by good teams. The Ls are still big Ls and the Ws are still big Ws." - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, on whether is 7-3 team is under the radar. Tulsa's losses came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State
Poll watch: In the latest BCS standings, Houston is No. 11 and Southern Miss is No. 20. That marks the third consecutive week both have been in the top 25. Before this current run, C-USA hadn't had two teams in the BCS top 25 at the same time since 2004.
Etc.: The No. 2 and 3 active career rushers will be on the same field Saturday when Western Kentucky plays at North Texas. Western's Bobby Rainey has 4,101 yards and is the No. 2 active career rusher, behind only LaMichael James (4,484 yards). UNT's Lance Dunbar is third, with 3,909 yards. ? Houston senior WR Tyron Carrier has 293 career receptions, seven shy of the C-USA record held by Louisville's Arnold Jackson. ? New Mexico State WR Taveon Rogers leads the nation in all-purpose yards. He is averaging 223.7 yards per game. Rogers has 881 receiving yards and 1,142 kick-return yards. ? Southern Miss' 9-1 record is its best start since 1962. One more win ties the school record for victories in a season, set in 1952 and matched in 1988. ? Temple is the fourth and final MAC team Army has faced this season. Army is 0-3 thus far, losing to Northern Illinois, Ball State and Miami (Ohio). ? Louisiana Tech has held every opponent this year under its rushing average and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. The Bulldogs play at Nevada this week, which is seventh nationally in rush offense at 262.0 yards per game. ? Western Michigan senior WR Jordan White became the school's career receiving yards leader (3,678) in last week's loss to Toledo. He also has set school single-season receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,402) records. Toledo junior WR Eric Page set his school record for career receiving yards (3,144) in the same game. ? Arkansas State is 6-0 in Sun Belt play and has a chance to become the fifth team in Sun Belt history to go undefeated in league play if it finishes with two more victories. ? Saturday is the 45th anniversary of the famous 10-10 tie between Michigan State and Notre Dame. The Irish went on to win the national title that season. ? Navy's game at San Jose State on Saturday will be the Midshipmen's first regular-season game in California since 2006, when they defeated Stanford 37-9. It also will be just the 12th regular-season game Navy has played in California in 131 years of football. Counting bowls, this will be Navy's 18th game in California. ? San Jose State leads the nation in fumble recoveries with 17 and is tied for second in the nation in turnovers forced with 29. Alas, the Spartans also are second in the nation in turnovers lost with 28. ? Tulsa has won 11 consecutive Conference USA games, the third-longest streak in C-USA history. Southern Miss holds the record with 14, from Oct. 10, 1998-Nov. 4, 2000. Southern Miss also has the second-longest streak at 13 in a row from Nov. 30, 2002-Nov. 6, 2004. ? New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker leads his team against BYU on Saturday. Walker was BYU's cornerbacks coach in 1994 under LaVell Edwards. ? Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has won 13 consecutive games in November. ? In last week's 59-17 win over Marshall, Tulsa had two 100-yard rushers, a 100-yard receiver and a 300-yard passer for the first time since Nov. 11, 2006, vs. Rice. ? Idaho's Bobby Cowan leads the nation in punting with a 47.0-yard average. ? Louisiana Tech has won five in a row and is finishing up a stretch where it played five of six games on the road. ? North Texas won its fourth game of the season last weekend, which is UNT's most wins in a season since 2004. ? Notre Dame senior RB Jonas Gray has scored a rushing touchdown in seven consecutive games, the longest such streak by an Irish running back since Autry Denson scored in 10 consecutive games in 1998. ? UAB scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 41-35 victory over Memphis last week; the 18-point deficit that UAB overcame represented the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. ? Arkansas State is 8-2 overall; the eight victories are its most as an FBS member and its most at any level since 1987. ? Navy senior DE Jabaree Tuani has 38.5 career tackles for loss, third-most in school history. He is 3.5 behind second-place David Mahoney (2003-06) and 5.5 behind record-holder Andy Person (2002-05). ? Troy has lost five in a row for the first time since 1982. ?Northern Illinois eliminated Ball State from the MAC West race with a 41-38 victory Tuesday night. In eliminating the Cardinals, the Huskies remained atop the division. NIU, which won on a last-play field goal, rolled up 710 yards of offense. ? Army and Navy have games Saturday, then neither play again until they meet Dec. 10 in Landover, Md.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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