It is TCU's Nov. 12 upset road win over Boise State that appears to have put the control of Houston's BCS hopes directly in the hands of the Cougars, despite them remaining ranked behind Boise State in the BCS standings.
Boise State is ranked No. 10 in the latest BCS rankings, while Houston (10-0, 6-0 in C-USA play) is ranked No. 11. But Boise State's loss likely means the Broncos won't win the Mountain West Conference title, as TCU is still unbeaten and plays two cupcakes to close out the regular season.
The BCS will take the highest-ranked program (at least ranked in the top 12 as both Boise State and Houston currently are) from a non-automatic qualifying league so long as that team is its conference champion.
Houston winning out (vs. SMU on Nov. 19, at Tulsa on Nov. 25 and vs. C-USA East Division champion Southern Miss in the league title game on Dec. 3) would likely land them somewhere in the top 10 in the BCS rankings, and by virtue of being a league champ, they would leapfrog Boise State for entry into a BCS bowl game.
"It's a place all teams want to be," sixth-year senior quarterback Case Keenum said of the Cougars now controlling their own destiny. "You don't want to have to count on any other games, any other teams, or any other committees to decide where you want to play. As far as our mindset, it hasn't changed a whole lot. We can treat it like a playoff like we have every week, because college football is like a playoff every week. It doesn't matter what's happened or what's going to happen. All that matters is this week."
Not entirely, as the Cougars face what appears to be easily the toughest three-week stretch of games it has seen all year and probably for the past several years.
While the Cougars have yet to play a team that had a winning record at the time the Cougars played them, Houston now faces, in order, a 6-4 SMU team at home, a 7-3 Tulsa team in Oklahoma and then, in all likelihood, a 9-1 Southern Miss team on Dec. 3 in the C-USA title game (Southern Miss can clinch the C-USA East Division with a Thursday win at UAB).
--Senior day doesn't mean any more to the Cougars players than it does any other team in the nation. But the Houston fan base on Nov. 19 will be saying goodbye to one of the program's most productive, fan-favorite group of players the school has ever had.
Included in the group are sixth-year senior and NCAA all-time passing champion Case Keenum, LB Marcus McGraw, WR Patrick Edwards, WR Tyron Carrier and many other players who have not only left their names in the Houston record books, but elevated the program back to national prominence.
For Keenum, he's one of the nation's few players who gets to celebrate his second senior day.
"This one will be a lot more special than my last senior day," Keenum said, referring to going through senior day ceremonies in 2010 while out with an ACL tear before the NCAA ruled he could return to play in 2011. "I'm a lot more excited about this one. I won't have to crutch out there like I did last time, which was not fun. I'm really excited to play in front of a home crowd at Robertson Stadium with all the guys that I've shared this season with. I don't think it could be any better."
--Houston is on pace to set the NCAA all-time record in total offense and is within striking distance of becoming the NCAA all-time best scoring offense.
Houston averaged 628.8 yards of offense per game, which is better than the NCAA record-setting 1989 Houston Cougars (625), which is the only other team to have averaged more than 600 yards per game for a whole season.
The 54.7 points per game the Cougars are averaging is 1.3 points behind the pace set by Army in 1944 (56.0 per game).
--QB Case Keenum could play but not get one passing yard in any of his next three regular-season games and still lead C-USA in passing yards per game.
The senior has thrown for 3,951 yards (395.1 yards per game through 10 games). That same yardage total averaged out over a 13-game season would give Keenum an average of 303.9 yards per game. The No. 2 passing QB in C-USA (SMU's J.J. McDermott) is averaging 276.4 passing yards per game.
SERIES HISTORY: Houston leads SMU 16-9-1 (last meeting, 2010, 45-20 Houston).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cougars' worst offensive game of the season on paper was Sept. 17 at Louisiana Tech, a team that leads the Western Athletic Conference in scoring defense. In that game, Houston rallied for the win and finished with 449 yards of total offense and 35 points. That was the Cougars' offense at its worst this year. But other than that game, there haven't exactly been many stout defenses on the Houston schedule. That changes this week when SMU comes to town boasting C-USA's No. 2 ranked total defense, allowing 345.2 yards per game. Still, the way QB Case Keenum is playing with WRs Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier and the way RB Charles Sims has come into his own in recent weeks, it's hard to imagine the Houston offense being any cause for concern at this point.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cougars' defense appears in the middle of the pack of just about all the C-USA defensive statistical categories (No. 3 in scoring defense, No. 5 in total defense, No. 8 in rushing defense and No. 3 in passing defense). The Cougars aren't as bad on paper as most assume they are, but they also haven't exactly shut down many of the better teams on their schedule. Six of the Cougars' 10 opponents have found success on the ground with 187 or more rushing yards. But only one of Houston's last nine opponents has been able to throw for more than 300 yards (Marshall had 309 on Oct. 22), which shouldn't be ignored considering how much teams playing the Cougars have been throwing this year when trailing in games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We went from no attention to overnight attention." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: SMU at Houston, Nov. 19 -- SMU is considered by many to be the first big test of this unbeaten Houston Cougars team all season. There is nothing the Mustangs would like more than to derail Houston's chances of a BCS bowl game, as it appears they did earlier this season with a win at TCU.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Houston's offense will be tested by a decent defense for a change, but the key here isn't about the points scored by the Cougars. They will get theirs. The Houston defense can't let SMU RB Zach Line go off for a huge game. The SMU run-and-shoot offense has opened up holes all year for Line as opposing defenses play pass, but it's Line that is the key to SMU's chances of keeping up with the Cougars' offense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Case Keenum -- What is left to say about Keenum? He's got all the passing records that matter in NCAA history, and if he's on his game against SMU, the Cougars will likely win. But he did go down hard on a 66-yard touchdown pass to WR Patrick Edwards in the Cougars' last game (Nov. 10 at Tulane). It was Keenum's last play of the game. If it was worse than coaches let on, Keenum could be a little bit off vs. SMU.
LB Marcus McGraw -- The senior linebacker will, as he always does, be ready for a full day's work trying to contain SMU RB Zach Line on Nov. 19. Line is C-USA's leading rusher at 122.4 rushing yards per game (he's nearly 50 yards per game ahead of the league's next closest runner). McGraw, meanwhile, has a team-high 99 tackles this season to go along with 2.5 sacks.
RB Charles Sims -- Seniors Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall may still get their carries since its senior day, but make no mistake, this is Sims' backfield now. Sims had 207 rushing yards on Nov. 10 vs. Tulane on just 10 carries. Like the track-star wide receivers Houston has, Sims is a home-run threat any time he touches the ball.
--QB Case Keenum's Nov. 10 game ended on a passing play that ended with him getting drilled to the turf. The Cougars were blowing out lowly Tulane at the time, so it also coincided with a point in the game that Keenum would have likely been taken out anyway, but since that was his last play in a game, it will be worth watching him early to see if there was more to that hit than coaches let on.
--RB Bryce Beall returned to the lineup Nov. 10 at Tulane after a hamstring injury cost him the previous three games. Fellow senior RB Michael Hayes was held out of the team's Nov. 10 win at Tulane, but is not considered injured. Both are now secondary players to RB Charles Sims.