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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Houston


Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

HOUSTON COUGARS (5-1, 1-1 C-USA)

There’s always one team that surprises and sneaks into the BCS standings to pose a threat to the traditional powers. This year, it’s Houston, which has knocked off three automatic qualifying teams, including No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Cougars have a dynamic offense led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Case Keenum, but it’s defense leaves a little something to be desired. Things will get interesting as the Cougars start to play some of the better teams in their conference.

Best-case scenario: Had Houston not had a mental lapse against UTEP a few weeks ago, the Cougars might be in the thick of the BCS bowl berth hunt, but hope is not lost. At No. 17 in the BCS standings, the Cougars have an outside shot at a BCS bowl berth, but to get there, the Cougars need Boise State, TCU and BYU to stumble. The Cougars most likely prize will be the Conference USA title, which they haven’t won since 2006.

Worst-case scenario: That UTEP game wasn’t a fluke. While the Cougars have gone on to win two games since that UTEP loss, the struggles in that contest were a sign that the Cougars are going to struggle to keep up against some of the more offensively potent teams in the conference. The Cougars are currently behind Tulsa and SMU in the conference standings and those two teams will end up pushing them out of the Conference USA race.

Prediction: Houston’s loss to UTEP was an aberration. The Cougars have proven this season that they belong among the nation’s best teams and they’ll continue to prove that in conference play. Once Houston gets into the groove of playing C-USA opponents and really sets its sights on a conference title, there won’t be many teams that can stop them. Houston will win the conference title and play in the Liberty Bowl.