As they did in both the USA Today Coaches' and the Associated Press top-25 polls, the Houston Cougars moved up in the BCS rankings after a Nov. 5 win at UAB.
Houston (9-0 overall, 5-0 in C-USA play) enjoys its highest-ever BCS ranking at No. 11 with three regular-season games remaining and a possible C-USA championship game to bolster its standing enough to sneak in the back door to a BCS bowl game. Obviously that only happens with some help, though.
"All we can do is win," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin told the Houston Chronicle. "Obviously, other people have to lose for us to move up. As a non-AQ school, just winning is not going to do it. Other people have to lose. If we continue to win, things are going to happen for us."
This week's challenge, a Nov. 10 game at lowly Tulane, is keeping the pedal to the metal against an inferior opponent. Without blowouts against the Tulanes and UABs of the world, the Cougars face the same fate as Boise State has for years -- the fear of dropping in the polls for not beating teams by 40 or 50 as opposed to 25 or 30 points.
On the bright side for the Cougars, and for their critics as well, this week is the final week of the team's weak portion of the schedule and the final game the Cougars will play this season against a team with a losing record entering the game (teams like UCLA and Louisiana Tech have since regained winning records, but did not have them when they played the Cougars).
After Tulane, the Cougars can take another step toward proving whether they can beat a bowl-worthy foe when SMU (Nov. 19) comes to town and when Tulsa (Nov. 25) hosts Houston. Both of those teams are currently 6-3. Following that is a potential C-USA title game matchup with likely C-USA East Division winner Southern Miss, which is currently in the national rankings and sitting pretty at 8-1 on the year.
"All we can do is win the games," Sumlin said in the Chronicle. "We have another big one Thursday (at Tulane) on a short week, and we'll see what happens after that."
--For all the criticism Houston's defense receives, it is allowing just 23.4 points per game this season, which is fourth-best in Conference USA. That stat is helped greatly from games against three very weak opponents -- a 56-0 shutout of FCS Georgia State, a 56-3 win over East Carolina and a 56-13 win over UAB. Those three teams are a combined 7-20, average only a combined 20.3 points per game and less than 330 yards of offense per game. So it isn't exactly as though they are lighting up any other defenses, either. Against the other six teams on Houston's schedule, the Cougars are allowing 32.5 points per game.
--For all the record watch talk for Houston QB Case Keenum, there is now reason for Houston fans to turn that attention to senior WR Tyron Carrier.
Carrier has a nation-leading 48 consecutive games with a reception. This season he has 65 receptions for 743 yards and five touchdowns catches. His 289 career receptions are 48 behind Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, the NCAA record holder. With Broyles done for the year with an ACL injury, and the Cougars playing in four or five more games (five if they win the C-USA West Division crown and play in the C-USA championship game), Carrier is within striking distance of that record, too.
If Houston plays in four games (three more in the regular season and one bowl game), Carrier must average 12 receptions per game (he had 12 on Nov. 5 at UAB). If Houston plays in five games, he'll need 9.6 receptions per game.
On the year, Carrier is averaging 7.2 receptions per game, but don't be surprised if that picks up with another record on the horizon, as Houston isn't shy about relishing in individual records.
If Carrier plays at the next level, though, it will likely be because of his speed and kick-return ability. Carrier is tied with former Clemson star C.J. Spiller with seven career kick returns for touchdowns, the most ever in NCAA history.
--Through nine games this season, Houston has C-USA's worst time of possession average at 25:22 minutes per game. The Cougars simply score too fast to make that stat mean much of anything.
Based on the Cougars' season-long scoring average of 52.7 points per game, the team is averaging more than two points per minute it has the ball.
SERIES HISTORY: Houston leads Tulane 12-4 (last meeting, 2010, 42-23 Houston).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: By this point, it's a broken record. Literally. The Houston offense is setting a new record each week with QB Case Keenum, WRs Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards and a host of other complementary players -- WR Justin Johnson and RBs Michael Hayes and Charles Sims in particular -- proving each week to be far too much for opposing defenses to contain for four quarters (or even much more than one quarter a game, really). Keenum knows where his wide receivers are, and his pinpoint accuracy seems to complete passes even when the defense does dial up the right scheme. The run game is good, and the passing game might be as good as college football has ever seen to this point.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Houston defense isn't scaring anybody, but it isn't exactly designed to. The Cougars, led by one of C-USA's most consistent defenders over the past four years in LB Marcus McGraw (90 tackles in nine games), knows it can take some chances because its offense is so dominant. Because of that, the Cougars have a league-best 79 tackles for loss to just 39 for their opponents. The downside to the scheme, though, is if the tackle isn't made in the backfield, it's likely that a big run occurred. Houston allows 183.8 rushing yards per game. Because of the offense, the defense also has the benefit of playing with huge leads every game, leading to playing teams who are often taken out of their comfort zones early and often.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been a very special season." -- Houston QB Case Keenum.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Houston at Tulane, Nov. 10 -- Houston hasn't lost to Tulane in the Superdome since 2000, and this week doesn't appear to be a streak breaker. The Cougars are hoping to beat up on the Green Wave enough to enter the top 10 of the AP top 25, USA Today Coaches' top 25 and BCS rankings heading into the team's Nov. 19 showdown with SMU.
KEYS TO THE GAME: For one more week at least, Houston shouldn't have much of a problem scoring enough points to not worry in the slightest about what Tulane's offense does. The Cougars would like to get a good early lead to give seniors some second-half rest in preparation for the final two regular-season games, which are the toughest of the season vs. SMU and at Tulsa.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Case Keenum -- The senior quarterback now has all the records everyone was waiting for him to get. It's not likely he'll now tank it, but it will be a different feel Nov. 10 at Tulane for the first time all season knowing he is no longer in pursuit of the NCAA all-time touchdown passes, total offense or passing yardage records, which have taken up a large portion of the program's weekly press packet all season. Keenum knows there is little if any chance of winning a Heisman Trophy, but if ever a non-AQ player deserved an invite, the numbers Keenum is putting up this season are worthy.
LB Sammy Brown -- The senior leads the nation in tackles for a loss with 21.5 this year. No. 2 on the list is a fellow C-USA member, Marshall's Vinny Curry (18.0).
P Richie Leone -- His 44.8 yards per punt is good. In fact, it would be good enough to rank No. 2 in C-USA if the Cougars only used him more. Because his average is based on just 26 punts this season, Leone doesn't qualify for the league or national rankings, which require an average of 3.6 punts per game. He currently has 2.9 per game.
--RB Bryce Beall has been out of action nursing a nagging hamstring injury since the team's Oct. 8 game vs. East Carolina. He's practiced some and was expected to play last week at UAB, but did not. He's remained on top of the Cougars' depth chart distributed in each week's preview notes packages, but has now missed three consecutive games. It is unclear whether he'll play Nov. 10 at Tulane on a short week for preparation. Head coach Kevin Sumlin may keep his senior out one more week to have extra rest for the tough Nov. 19 SMU showdown in Houston.