Dallas Colleges: Houston Cougars
Semifinal schedule for the Legends Classic:
Nov. 25: Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN2); Stanford vs. Houston (9:30, ESPN2)
Nov. 26: Consolation game (7 p.m., ESPN3); Championship game (9:30, ESPNU)
Initial thoughts: Three of these four programs are in a state of flux. Texas Tech is in its first season under Tubby Smith. Houston -- although it won 20 games last season -- is still attempting to work its way back into relevancy. And Pittsburgh is dealing with the loss of four of its top players (Steven Adams, Tray Woodall, Trey Zeigler and J.J. Moore). Stanford appears to be on solid footing, as it returns virtually all of the key pieces from a 2012-13 squad that showed flashes of brilliance but could never develop any consistency. It will be a disappointment if the Cardinal doesn't make the NCAA tournament this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Stanford vs. Houston. Don’t sleep on the Cougars. Even though standout shooting guard Joseph Young transferred to Oregon, Houston is hardly short on talent. TaShawn Thomas is a beast down low and wing Danuel House -- a former top-25 recruit -- should make huge strides as a sophomore. Houston's coaching staff is crossing its fingers that Baylor transfer L.J. Rose, a point guard, will receive a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play immediately. It will be interesting to see how the Cougars fare against a veteran Stanford team led by 6-foot-10 forward Dwight Powell and guard Chasson Randle.
Five players to watch:
Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech: Crockett is the leading returning scorer (11.9) and rebounder (6.5) for a Red Raiders squad that went just 11-20 last season. The 6-foot-7 forward shot 49.8 percent from the field. The third-year starter will have to perform even better this season for Texas Tech to take a significant step. Junior Jordan Tolbert is just as big of a threat down low.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: Patterson, who averaged 10 points last season, is the Panthers’ leading returning scorer. The 6-foot-5 small forward attempted nearly half of his shots (111 of 248) from 3-point range. He’ll be the go-to guy on a squad that’s incorporating a lot of new parts.
Dwight Powell, Stanford: Powell averaged 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds last season on a balanced team. The versatile big man has a nice touch on his shot -- he made 80 percent of his free throws -- that allows him to score from almost anywhere. And he possesses a nice arsenal of moves in the paint.
Chasson Randle, Stanford: The guard averaged 13.6 points per game last season but shot just 40 percent from the field and only 36 percent from 3-point range. His shot selection isn’t always the best, but Randle is one of the most dangerous players in the Pac-12 when he’s “on.”
TaShawn Thomas, Houston: The 6-foot-8 forward was one of the most underrated big men in the country in 2012-13. He averaged 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds and eclipsed the 20-point barrier on 12 occasions. He could do even better as a junior thanks to an improved supporting cast.
Title game prediction: Stanford over Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders will give Tubby Smith his first signature win with a victory over Pittsburgh in the semifinals. But Texas Tech won’t be able to get past a veteran Cardinal club that should be high on chemistry and cohesion. Powell, Randle, Josh Huestis and Aaron Bright will be too much for the Red Raiders.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Pittsburgh over Stanford
Andy Katz: Stanford over Pittsburgh
Myron Medcalf: Pittsburgh over Stanford
Dana O'Neil: Pittsburgh over Stanford
Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all 12 teams in C-USA:
More Conference USA content:
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-- Brennan on the improved shot of Memphis' Adonis Thomas and Myron Medcalf's five questions for Thomas
-- Brennan rates and analyzes the nonconference schedules of the C-USA
-- Katz on Marshall star DeAndre Kane and the unexpected tragedy he had to face in the offseason
-- Medcalf on how new Tulsa coach Danny Manning is counting on Bill Self's lessons
-- Paul Biancardi identifies the top freshmen and potential recruits in C-USA
-- Katz and Greenberg's conversation with new SMU coach Larry Brown
-- ESPN.com's Summer Shootaround preview of C-USA
-- See where Memphis and Houston ranked in our "50 in 50" series, which attempted to identify the 50 most successful programs of the past half-century
-- For more coverage of Conference USA in the Nation blog, click here.
"His receivers and the offenses that he has been a part of in his coaching career have been some of the best in the country and I'm excited to have him join our staff," SMU coach June Jones said in a release. "He knows our offense from having played in it and I look forward to his input into what we do, along with what he brings to us from the offenses that he has been associated with in his coaching career. He has recruited Texas for close to 10 years, so he will have an impact there as well."
Phillips, who also served as Houston's wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1989 when Jones was an assistant coach. Phillips played six NFL seasons, including another stint under Jones when he was offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
With Phillips calling plays, Houston's prolific offense led the nation last year with 599 yards per game, the second highest average in Division I FBS history.
In the last four seasons under Phillips, Houston receivers posted individual 1,000 seasons seven times. Phillips' guidance helped quarterback Case Keenum become the NCAA career leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions.
Well, bouncing is more accurate. Keenum didn't look like a guy that had played four quarters of football. He did an interview with ESPNU, raced over to celebrate with his team and hoist the trophy as the game's MVP and then bounded for the stands.
But before he could get there, 28-year-old Javi Delafuente stopped him and ask him to autograph the back of his Houston Frontierman coat.
"I just graduated two weeks ago and this is in for me," Delafuente said. "It's been a great experience and he's part of that. He's everything a college athlete should be. It's good to see good things happen to good people."
Keenum smiled and then ran up the stairs to cheers from the Houston band. He grabbed some drumsticks and played the drums for a little while and then marched up the ladder, conducting the band for the fight song. And he wasn't done. He came back to the field, grabbed a megaphone and helped lead a few cheers. It was clear he was having fun.
And why not? Keenum finished off his stellar career in style. Against a Penn State defense that allowed 162 yards of passing per game on average, Keenum collected 227 yards in the first quarter. He just kept going. Keenum had 380 yards at the half and finished the game 45-for-69 with 532 passing yards and three touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception.
It was the sixth time he's passed for at least 500 yards in his career and caps a tenure that saw him rack up an NCAA-record 18,685 yards heading into today's game. He also set marks, before today, for: total offense (19,572), touchdown passes (152), total touchdowns (175), completions (1,501) and 300-yard games (38).
New Houston coach Tony Levine pulled Keenum aside for a quick chat after the game.
"I just thanked him for everything he's done for this program and everything he's meant to this team," Levine said.
The Cougars had only 16 rushing attempts (for 83 yards) against the Nittany Lions, opting to fling the ball all over the place as usual. Keenum felt that the opening drive, a 76-yarder that took less than two minutes, set an important tone.
"I think that was big, especially in bowl games where you take a lot of time off to get things rolling early, it's really important," Keenum said. "It's tough to do that when you're playing in January. It's been about a month off."
Keenum found Patrick Edwards for two big plays on that drive. Edwards had 228 yards receiving on 10 catches, including two touchdown passes. And he got to see his quarterback perform well one final time. For Keenum, this means the beginning of thinking fully about the next level. He was asked about his chances in the NFL.
"I rate my chances good," Keenum said. "I'm very confident in my abilities. I've been playing this game for a long time. I'm not going to change who I am. I'm going to play my game, but I feel really good. I've definitely been blessed and that door hasn't closed yet, that I haven't played my last football game. I'm excited about my future and what it holds."
But on Monday, he was just glad to see his team get to 13-1 and said he hopes they can finish in the top-15 of the final rankings.
"It was just an awesome game," Keenum said. "I'll remember this forever. I know all the guys will. I couldn't think of a better way to go out."
DALLAS -- Houston's high-octane offense was able to move the ball with relative ease against Penn State as the Cougars earned a 30-14 victory in the TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl.
How the game was won: Houston's passing attack was just too much for Penn State. The Nittany Lions came in a bit stingy through the air, allowing just 162 yards of passing per game. But Houston quarterback Case Keenum had 227 yards in the first quarter. Houston didn't run the ball much, but didn't need to. Keenum was able to find holes in the Penn State secondary and it didn't take the Cougars long to score. He had 380 yards at the half and just kept flinging it in the second half.
Turning point: Penn State stopped the Cougars on fourth down at the Nittany Lion 25-yard line with about three minutes left in the half, but then stalled. Houston used its timeouts and got the ball back with 1:02 left. Keenum needed just 24 seconds to turn a 10-point game into a 24-7 lead. He threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Patrick Edwards. It was Edwards' second touchdown of the day and he had 200 yards receiving in the first half.
Player of the game: This wasn't a tough choice. Keenum ended his career in impressive fashion. He had 380 yards at the half and early in the fourth quarter went over the 500-yard mark. It was his sixth 500-yard passing game in his career. He finished with 532 yards, short of his career-high of 559 against Southern Miss in 2009. A few drops cost Keenum even more yardage. But he was on target, as usual. He added three touchdowns to his ledger, bringing his career total to 155 touchdown passes. The senior was the all-time leading passer in NCAA history with 18,685 yards coming into the game.
Unsung hero: As it usually the case when you rack up yardage at the clip that Houston does, the defense is forgotten. But they deserve a ton of credit for Houston's win on Monday. The Cougar defense did not allow Penn State to get any momentum. Each time it appeared Penn State might get something going, the Cougar defense made a play. It took more than 16 minutes for the Nittany Lions to even get a first down. If we've got to pick out one player, a shout out to senior strong safety Nick Saenz, who had two interceptions. Kent Brooks and Marcus McGraw both had double-digit tackles.
Key stat: Patrick Edwards had 10 catches for 228 receiving yards for Houston. He had 200 of those yards at the half, including two touchdowns.
What it means for Houston: The Cougars end the season at 13-1, with the only loss coming to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. Houston lost its coach, Kevin Sumlin, to Texas A&M, but the high-powered Cougar offense behind Keenum didn't miss a beat. Tom Levine, named Houston's coach on Dec. 21, had a nice first game in charge and the Cougar defense was solid against Penn State's rushing attack. The win should give Houston some nice momentum during recruiting and into 2012, when they'll lose Keenum and will have to adjust to some new coaches. When the game ended, the Houston players mobbed Levine in celebration and dumped water on him.
What it means for Penn State: A difficult season is over. Penn State had to deal with all kinds of distractions resulting from the allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The players did their best to focus on what was happening on the field, but on Monday, they couldn't stop the Houston passing game. Penn State finishes at 9-4 and the loss will likely knock them out of the top-25. The Nittany Lions must regroup as a program, find a new coach and try to put the 2011 season behind them.
1. Get motivated. The big question is whether or not Houston will be able to get up for this game. The Cougars were a win away from getting to the first BCS game in school history, but lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. That was such a devastating loss. To go from potential BCS spot to this game has got to be a letdown. Plus, Houston will be without the coach that got them there. Kevin Sumlin left to become head coach at Texas A&M. Assistant Tony Levine was promoted, so everybody gets to see how he does in his first ever game as a head coach.
2. Protect Case Keenum. One of the biggest contributing factors in the Cougars' upset loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game was the way the offensive line struggled to protect Case Keenum. He was only sacked twice, but he was on the run from the pass rush for a majority of the game. Now Penn State arrives with top-notch defensive tackle Devon Still ready to wreak havoc. Penn State has 26 sacks on the season and should have an advantage in this category. Still has been battling turf toe, so that could be an advantage for Houston if he is not 100 percent.
3. Strike with big pass plays. Houston ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing offense, and will face a huge test in a Penn State defense that ranks No. 5 against the pass. Penn State only has given up two touchdowns of 20-plus yards this season, while Houston has 29. Houston might have a speed advantage, so if the Cougars can protect Keenum, players like Patrick Edwards might have an opportunity to get free. Keenum has to watch for safety Nick Sukay, a second-team Big Ten selection. Penn State had 14 interceptions on the season and Southern Miss showed that with pressure, Keenum can be forced into making mistakes.
My Heisman Trophy ballot has changed every week for the last couple of months.
I'm not surprised there are more than three players going to the trophy presentation.
Five players were invited to New York for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, tailbacks Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Trent Richardson of Alabama and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu of LSU.
It's a shame the Heisman Trust didn't have room for three more quarterbacks because Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley and Boise State's Kellen Moore were just as deserving.
With five finalists going to New York, it figures to be one of the closer votes in recent Heisman Trophy history.
The closest vote in Heisman Trophy history came just two years ago, when Alabama tailback Mark Ingram edged Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points. Ingram received 227 first-place votes, Gerhart got 222 and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second runner-up, received 203.
Given the number of finalists and their geographical regions, we could have another really close finish on Saturday night.
Luck, the runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton last season, entered the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. His performance didn't slip much this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
I still feel Luck might be the most valuable player on any team in the country. Without him, there's no way the Cardinal is ranked No. 4 in the country and playing No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Luck has done more with less, as Stanford lacks the game-changing playmakers that other teams have.
But Luck might still be the second-best quarterback in New York. Griffin, who is widely known as RG3, completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards with nine touchdowns.
Without him, the Bears wouldn't have beaten TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin's one drawback: He had a late interception that sealed the Bears' fate in a 36-35 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 1 and threw two picks in a 59-24 loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 29. But with everything else RG3 has done this season, it's easy to give him a mulligan for the miscues.
Ball has been a scoring machine for the No. 10 Badgers this season, running for 1,759 yards with 32 touchdown runs and six touchdown receptions. His 38 total touchdowns are one shy of matching former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 set in 11 games in 1988. Ball's production helped lead the Badgers to a Jan. 2 date against Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
Mathieu fell off my ballot after he was suspended from playing in the Tigers' 45-10 victory over Auburn on Oct. 22 for smoking synthetic marijuana. But his big plays helped the Tigers overcome deficits in each of their last two victories, over Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC championship game.
Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- is the best player on the top-ranked team. He leads the Tigers with 70 tackles and has forced six fumbles and recovered five. He also is the most dynamic punt returner I've seen since Florida State's Deion Sanders. Mathieu has scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns.
To penalize Mathieu for one foolish mistake wouldn't have been right. After all, Newton was briefly ruled ineligible at Auburn last season and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James of Oregon was suspended from playing in last season's opener.
So, can TCU actually sneak into a BCS game?
Technically, yes. The odds, though, are heavily stacked against them.
First, a reminder how a non-AQ team earns an automatic BCS berth: By winning its league championship (and being the champ is the key, not the final ranking, see Boise State); finishing in the top 16 of the BCS standings; and finishing higher than a champion of an AQ league. West Virginia is the highest-ranked Big East team at No. 23, and it isn't assured of winning the league.
By the time the Frogs (9-2) kick off their finale in Forth Worth against UNLV (2-9) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, they'll have a pretty good idea if there's any hope. No. 6 Houston (12-0) controls its destiny: Beat No. 24 Southern Miss (10-2) in the Conference USA title game (11 a.m. Saturday, ABC), and an automatic BCS berth belongs to Case Keenum and the Coogs.
Lose, and suddenly the door flings open for the Frogs.
Here's the three-step process that must happen for TCU to seal a third consecutive BCS berth:
1. Houston must lose to Southern Miss -- which seemingly killed its BCS dreams with an awful loss to UAB two weeks ago.
2. TCU must beat UNLV (2-9) to win the Mountain West Conference title outright and do so in an overpowering way to make gains with voters (playing UNLV could actually hurt TCU in the computers, just see its 34-10 win over Colorado State that dropped it from No. 19 to 20).
3. TCU must move up two spots to No. 16 in the BCS rankings released next Sunday night.
If the first two dominoes fall, how plausible is a move into the top 16?
Well, No. 17 Baylor, with banged-up quarterback Robert Griffin III, plays host to No. 22 Texas. No. 16 Michigan's regular season is over. No. 15 Wisconsin faces No. 13 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. No. 14 Georgia gets No. 1 LSU in the SEC championship game. Would loses to ranked teams, two of which will be in conference title games bump those teams down far enough to help TCU?
How charmed are these Frogs? We'll soon find out.
After the dust settled on a wild weekend, TCU's 24-point win turned into a rankings loss.
The Frogs' hopes for a third consecutive BCS berth took perhaps a devastating hit when the BCS computers revealed Sunday night that TCU (9-2) actually dropped one spot to No. 20. TCU must finish in the top 16 in the final rankings in two weeks to have any hope of earning an automatic BCS berth.
For the complete BCS rankings, click here.
TCU doesn't play again until its season finale on Dec. 3 at home against UNLV (2-8), which will do little to strengthen its case. The Frogs are assured of at least sharing the Mountain West Conference championship and will win it outright with a victory over the Rebels.
If TCU did somehow get the help it needs from teams ranked ahead of it and did crack the top 16, the Frogs would still need help from Houston, which moved up to No. 8. TCU needs Houston to lose Friday at Tulsa, which would make the Golden Hurricane (7-3) the Conference USA West division champ and put it in the C-USA title game. If Houston beats Tulsa, TCU would then need the Cougars (11-0) to lose in the C-USA championship game. If the Cougars win out, they will play in the school's first BCS game.
The BCS grants an automatic berth to a non-AQ conference champion if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of an AQ conference. Houston and TCU are virtually assured of finishing ahead of the champion of the Big East, which does not have a team ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings.
After Sunday's rankings, however, it appears TCU's brief flirtation with the BCS will end as nothing more.
Likely TCU bowl destination: Independence bowl in Shreveport, La.
They remain at No. 19 in the AP poll and moved up one spot to No. 18 in the coaches poll. The latest BCS rankings will be revealed this evening on ESPN.
To earn an automatic BCS berth, TCU must finish in the top 16 in the BCS rankings, and it still must have Houston, which controls its destiny, lose its final regular-season game at Tulsa next Friday or in the Conference USA title game. Even if the Cougars lose, rising to No. 16 will require plenty of help from the teams ahead of TCU.
Whether at No. 18 or 19 in the BCS standings, the Frogs will have a tough time moving up on their own merit considering their season finale in two weeks is against UNLV. Still, getting to No. 16 is not impossible.
Consider that (rankings are current coaches poll) No. 17 Clemson plays at No. 13 South Carolina, No. 16 Michigan plays host to Ohio State and No. 15 Kansas State plays host to upset-minded Iowa State.
That loss, Southern Miss' second of the season, will bump it down the BCS rankings, leaving No. 11 Houston (10-0) as the Frogs' lone hurdle to a possible third consecutive BCS berth. The Cougars play host to SMU Saturday and ESPN GameDay will be there. A Houston loss in either of its two remaining regular-season games (at Tulsa, Nov. 25) or in the Conference USA championship game could be enough to vault the Frogs into position for an automatic BCS berth.
TCU (8-2) has to take care of its own business. The Frogs play at home Saturday against Colorado State (3-6) and then finish the season two weeks later at home against UNLV (2-7).
For a more detailed look at TCU's road to the BCS click here.
Houston had last Saturday off after easily dispatching Tulane on a Thursday night.
Coach Kevin Sumlin was at home watching the end of the wild Texas A&M-Kansas State game when his phone started ringing. Text messages started flying in, too. He had one good guess about what was happening.
"Nobody really calls me a lot on Saturday night, so I figured that's what happened," Sumlin said at his news conference this week.
Boise State and Houston went into last week undefeated, but it was the Broncos with the Top 5 ranking in the BCS standings. Only one team from outside the automatic qualifying conferences is guaranteed an automatic spot into the BCS, should it finish in the Top 12 of the final standings. As long as Boise State was ranked ahead of the Cougars, the Broncos would take that spot. Houston would be left hoping for an at-large berth.
How things change with one loss. If the No. 11 Cougars (10-0) win out, they clinch the first BCS berth in school and Conference USA history. College GameDay comes to town Saturday for a crucial West Division game against SMU (6-4), and now everybody will be paying attention.
"I think it's a place where all teams want to be in," said quarterback Case Keenum, now a candidate in the Heisman Trophy race. "As far as our mind-set, it doesn't change it a whole lot. We can treat it like a playoff like we have every week, so it doesn't matter what's happened. All that matters is this week."
|University of Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin dishes on the program's success, building a winner and more. |
Keenum, of course, has taken all the headlines with his NCAA record-setting performance this season. He has directed the No. 1 offense in the nation, averaging 628.8 yards a game. That is on pace to break the NCAA FBS record for total offense, set by David Klingler and Houston in 1989 (625 ypg).
It is Keenum who has really piloted this team, a man who overcame the low point of a torn ACL last season to come back better than ever. Keenum leads FBS this season with 41 completions of 25 yards or longer, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Incredibly, he has completed at least one such pass in 50 of his 53 career games, including all 10 this season.
He has got a great target in Patrick Edwards, who has 1,277 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. But everybody expected fireworks from Houston this season. What has really allowed the Cougars to get to the position they are in today has been improvement on defense.
Consider: in 2009, Houston ranked No. 95 in the nation in scoring defense (30.07 ppg) and No. 111 in total defense (451.29). This season, Houston ranks No. 41 in scoring defense (22.8 ppg) and No. 67 in total defense (393.2 ypg).
One of the knocks against Houston going into the season was its inability to put a complete season together. This is a team that always lost a game it was favored to win. Go back to 2009 when the Cougars dropped games to UTEP and UCF, and also lost to East Carolina in the conference title game. Houston was the favorite in all three of those games.
"Two years ago, we were a very inconsistent football team," Sumlin said. "We were up and down in a lot of different ways -- not just on Saturday, but it started with practice and being able to handle media, being able to divide our time and know what's really important and what's not and stay focused. There's a lot of things that go into that. The experiences of two years ago have helped this football team."
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