Beyond the Boxscore
Case Keenum could slide. He probably should slide. His coach is screaming at him to slide . . . just slide . . .
But Keenum is not sliding. Not on this stage. Not in this game. Not in this season.
So Keenum keeps running, right past the spot at the 8-yard-line where he should probably go down, right by the closing SMU defenders, right around the corner into the end zone. Keenum's 16-yard touchdown run is not the biggest play in the University of Houston's 37-7 Saturday beatdown of SMU. It probably doesn't even deserve to be in that discussion.
It's a telling play though — one that explains a lot about this 11-0 team. Case and The Coogs just keep coming. There is no let up in this Houston team. Kevin Sumlin's squad is going to squeeze everything that it can out of every moment, and then look and see if it cannot wring out a little more. So Keenum refuses to slide even though UH is already up 23-7 on SMU with less than seven minutes remaining, even though the win is already secure, even though he's running on that surgically-repaired knee, even though he took a pounding in the first half.
Case and The Coogs are not going to cheat their dream season. Not even for a moment. And college football's faulty method of determining a national champion shouldn't cheat it either.
The greatest season in the history of Houston's football program should be allowed the chance to become the greatest underdog story in the history of college football.
The University of Houston needs to be playing for the national championship if it finishes 13-0. That's right, UH must be No. 1 LSU's last hurdle on Jan. 9 in New Orleans if both teams stay undefeated.
If that still sounds crazy to you . . . well, you just haven't been paying close enough attention.
For it would have been a crazy thought for a good three months of this season. Heck, the argument would have been borderline insane only a few mornings ago. After another wacky weekend of college football though, a two-day stretch in which almost every traditional power conference team that could argue that it deserves a shot at the Tigers threw up all over itself, one way or the other, LSU-Houston is the only thing left that makes sense.
It's just bonkers enough to be perfect.
Enough already with the talk of The Rematch. No one in America outside of the SEC honks who think their conference is a religion wants to see LSU-Alabama II.
Iowa State outguns No. 2 Oklahoma State as a 27-point underdog. USC blitzes No. 4 Oregon in Eugene, which makes No. 8 Stanford look even worse for getting destroyed by the Ducks. Robert Griffin III throws for nearly 500 yards against No. 5 Oklahoma with RG3 taking the Bears 80 yards in five plays to win it.
Who's left? No. 6 Arkansas? The Razorbacks get to play LSU the day after Thanksgiving. That's their opportunity, lose and they're out of the picture. No. 3 Alabama? You mean the team that just gave up 302 yards to an FCS school? The haughty power that already took its swing at Les Miles and the Tigers and couldn't give America anything more than a self-destructive 9-6 groaner of a loss?
Please, enough already with the talk of The Rematch. No one in America outside of the SEC honks who think their conference is a religion wants to see LSU-Alabama II.
Who's left? Case and The Coogs, that's who.
If you win, you will not be ignored.
That is what Sumlin's told his team all season. When the dream was young and Robertson Stadium wasn't selling out, when the thought of ESPN College GameDay coming to Cullen Circle felt as realistic as Tupac walking into the school library, the coach kept harping on one theme. If you win, you will not be ignored.
It's time for all the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) critics, for the writers and coaches who vote in the polls even as they whine about the system, to embrace this bit of fairness, to make Houston the No. 2 team in the country in their rankings. If a 13-0 team is going to be denied a title shot, it must be blocked by the computers.
There are two undefeated teams still standing in major college football. Two out of 120. LSU, Houston. Match them up. Make them one, two in the human polls. See what happens.
Don't do it just to mess with a broken system though. Do it because it's right. This Houston team is earning this moment.
Rip into UH's schedule all you want. It's an easy target, sign of at least a residue of small thinking at a school that likes to tell you how big it's planning. But know this too, the schedule's getting better and it's going to end up looking more impressive than anyone thought back in September.
The SMU win marks the start of a nice little stretch. Southern Mississippi's inexplicable loss to UAB hurts, but Houston is still set to play at an 8-3 Tulsa team the day after Thanksgiving and then a possibly 10-2 — albeit, no longer ranked — Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game at Robertson Dec. 3.
Understand this too: Houston keeps getting better. It's hard to be both undefeated and the most improved team in the country from Sept. 3 to now, but that's exactly what the Cougars are. For there is the Brian Stewart-coached defense — the same unit that drew deserved comparisons to the horrific 2010 Houston Texans defense in that 38-34 season-opening win over UCLA — controlling the game for Keenum in the first half, holding a June Jones offense scoreless for the first 50 minutes and 20 seconds of game clock.
So much for the UH fan who jokes pregame, "They're bringing in Wade Phillips next year. That's the rumor."
Sumlin meets the defenders coming off the field after almost every big stop, making a point to slap hands with all 11 men each time. There's Sammy Brown collecting three sacks on senior day. There's Phillip Steward coming out of nowhere — on a leap — to intercept a pass in the end zone. There's cornerback D.J. Hayden separating the SMU quarterback from the football.
"(The defense) came to play," Sumlin says afterwards. "They've been getting better all year."
All the Cougars have, Keenum included. And the crowds at Robertson are finally reflective of that. A stadium-record 32,207 cram into Houston's old relic of a stadium on this ESPN College Gameday afternoon. The stadium is almost completely packed a good hour before the opening kickoff and the red-clad sea largely remains until the final minutes.
Sumlin meets the defenders coming off the field after almost every big stop, making a point to slap hands with all 11 men each time.
"I saw people standing all over the place," an appreciative Sumlin says. "I hope the fire marshal wasn't there. I saw people where they're not supposed to be."
One of the funny things about the day is that the people largely responsible for the giant crowd — ESPN's GameDay hype machine — are long gone well before opening kickoff. Erin Andrews is high tailing it to Waco to work the sidelines of Baylor-OU. Lee Corso is probably trying to explain to his superiors why he dropped an F-Bomb on national TV.
No matter, Case & The Coogs are more than happy to pick up the party.
Keenum will break another all-time NCAA record (most career completions), but it's his toughness that really stands out. SMU sends everything it can at Keenum, hits him again and again and again in the first half. He's still going at them, running right at them, refusing to slide, late in the fourth quarter.
Two more wins and Case & The Coogs should be running right at LSU.
There's no denying the righteousness of this matchup anymore. In an upside down season of college football, it's the only one that makes sense. Just any BCS bowl berth would not be justice enough for this Houston team. Not anymore.
If you win, you will not be ignored.