ADD Houston tothe list. A 45--35 upset of No. 5 Oklahoma State last Saturday in Stillwaterdidn't just launch the Cougars into the Top 25 for the first time in 18 years(at No. 21), it also stamped them as the standard-bearers for Conference USA inthis season's already crowded BCS-busting competition. Houston joins No. 7 BYU,No. 15 TCU and No. 18 Utah (all from the Mountain West) and No. 10 Boise State(WAC) in the hunt for an at-large bid to college football's exclusive year-endfestivities. Can another round of congressional hearings be far off?
Like every recentBCS party crasher, the Cougars sport a prolific offense. Led by quarterbackCase Keenum, Houston is averaging 50 points and 525 yards per game. Keenum isso good with his arm—he threw for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns and led thenation in total offense a year ago—that it's easy to forget how good he is onhis feet. The 6'2", 210-pound junior, who was an option passer at WylieHigh in Abilene, Texas, buys time as well as any quarterback in the country.Against the Cowboys he scrambled from one side of the field to the other on anearly 16-yard touchdown run. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the Oklahoma Statesix, his game-winning touchdown pass, which fortuitously bounced off linebackerDonald Booker into the hands of running back Bryce Beall, came after Keenum hadheld the ball for nearly seven seconds and twice considered pulling it down andtrying to run it in himself.
Keenum was raisedon football. Until 2004, his father, Steve, was the coach at McMurryUniversity, a Division III program in Abilene. Case spent much of his free timehanging out with the team. But his father wouldn't let him work as a ball boyuntil he was strong enough to throw a football from the sideline to the nearestset of hash marks. "He'd been begging to do it since he could walk,"says Steve. "But he had to wait until he was eight or nine."
Just 6'1" and180 pounds when he graduated from high school in 2006, Case got his onlyscholarship offer from Houston's then coach, Art Briles. As a redshirtfreshman, Keenum split time with Blake Joseph, but after Briles left for Baylorin late '07, new Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin, the former co-offensivecoordinator at Oklahoma, wanted one quarterback to run his spread. Keenum wonthe job in fall camp, and Houston finished 8--5, beating Air Force in the ArmedForces Bowl. "Every quarterback wants to throw the ball on every down,"says Keenum. "I just try to get it to guys who can make plays."
September 20, 2009
Against OklahomaState the Cougars showed the poise of a team that knows it belongs in the Top25. They blew a 24--7 halftime lead in the third quarter, falling behind 28--24before rebounding with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. "There was aboutnine minutes of 'Oh, no,'" says Sumlin. "But we're all playing betterthan we were last year, and we did what mature teams do."
That maturitywill be tested in Houston's next game. On Sept. 26, Texas Tech, another Big 12heavyweight, comes calling.
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