Record: 12-1, 8-0 C-USA
By now you already know the story of the season for the Houston Cougars. A first ever BCS appearance slipped through their fingers in a 49-28 loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. It was not the way Houston envisioned ending the season, or the way Case Keenum envisioned his league career ending when he decided he wanted to return for his sixth season after missing nearly all of 2010 with a torn ACL.
It probably is little consolation that Houston ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense. The Cougars had five players made the all-conference first-team: Keenum, Patrick Edwards, Charles Sims, Justin Johnson and Chris Thompson. But in the end, the offense could not make enough plays when it mattered most.
And as much was made about the improvement on defense, that unit simply collapsed against Southern Miss, giving up 207 yards on the ground. It was as disappointing a loss as any team will suffer, and one that surely will linger on in Houston.
Offensive MVP: Keenum. What can you say about Keenum, who returned after a knee injury only to have yet another 5,000-yard passing season. Keenum re-set NCAA career records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense while also becoming the first player in NCAA history with three 5,000-yard seasons. Keenum ended the regular season with 5,099 yards passing and 45 touchdowns, both tops in the nation.
Defensive MVP: Sammy Brown, LB. Brown was excellent this season, and leads the country with 28 tackles for loss and ranks among the top five nationally with 12.5 sacks. His 28 TFLs set the school record and he could break the all-time single-season sacks mark with two more sacks in the TicketCity Bowl against Penn State.
Turning point: Even though it was the last game of the season, the loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game was the turning point for the Cougars. They went from BCS to TicketCity Bowl, a steep drop for a one-loss team that did just about everything else right in 2011.
What’s next: There is a lot of uncertainty for Houston. Keenum is gone, and coach Kevin Sumlin has been a popular name for several coaching vacancies. Houston also appears ready to join the Big East for 2013. When Keenum got hurt last season, the Cougars struggled to a 5-7 record and missed a bowl game. Will David Piland be better off for his experience as a true freshman or are tough times in store for a program that will be without its best player -- and perhaps even its coach?