58F Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, OK
Houston's Case Keenum continues to garner plenty of national acclaim with each record he breaks at quarterback.
The Cougars' defense, however, is finally starting to receive some much-deserved attention.
Enjoying its highest ranking in more than 21 years, No. 8 Houston seeks a single-season school-record 12th consecutive victory as it visits Tulsa on Friday with a spot in the Conference USA title game on the line.
Keenum, the NCAA's career leader in passing yardage (17,855), total offense (18,771) and touchdown passes (145), broke the FBS record for completions (1,427) on Saturday, completing 30 of 45 passes for 318 yards and a TD in a 37-7 rout of SMU. He also tied former Hawaii quarterback Tim Chang's FBS record for career 300-yard passing games (36).
While Keenum appreciates the magnitude of breaking another record, he knows the Cougars (11-0, 7-0 Conference USA) find themselves in the midst of something bigger. Houston, which has never won 12 games in a season, is one of just two remaining undefeated FBS teams in the country.
"I hope we made a pretty good case," he said of possibly earning a Bowl Championship Series berth. "That's the only thing we can do. We can't argue our case on different things. Our way of talking is the way we play. I hope people don't make up their minds about us before we play. I hope they watch us play and are impressed. The only way we can change people's minds is by the way we play."
The Cougars, averaging FBS bests of 618.3 yards and 53.1 points, are starting to pick up the pace defensively. They limited the Mustangs to just 263 yards and held them scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter Saturday.
Houston, which ranked 96th in the FBS with 32.2 points allowed per game last season, is surrendering an average of just 21.4 - the 31st-lowest mark in the country.
"We're not there by any means," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "But I think our team feels the improvement. Our guys are growing with confidence and enjoy playing. I couldn't be happier with how they're approaching the game right now."
The Cougars will surely be in for a challenge against the Golden Hurricane (8-3, 7-0), who have won seven straight by an average of 23.0 points. Both teams are tied atop the West division, and while it's hard for Houston to ignore what potentially looms following this contest, overlooking Tulsa could prove devastating.
"We just need to focus on beating Tulsa. We need to take it game by game," running back Michael Hayes said.
The Golden Hurricane's G.J. Kinne continued his tremendous campaign, completing 19 of 25 passes for 283 yards with three touchdowns and an interception during Saturday's 57-28 win at UTEP. Kinne's quarterback rating of 154.7 ranks second in the conference to Keenum's mark of 186.9.
With Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas leading the way, Tulsa is averaging a conference-best 210.1 rushing yards per game - compiling a combined 597 over its last two.
The Golden Hurricane, who have won 12 consecutive C-USA games dating to last season, are one away from matching the league record.
With Keenum sidelined due to a knee injury, Tulsa prevailed 28-25 at Houston on Nov. 13, 2010, behind Kinne's three touchdowns - two through the air - and career-high 190 rushing yards.
While facing Keenum obviously presents a much more difficult challenge, coach Bill Blankenship remains confident heading into Friday's showdown.
"That's the recipe we'd like to see. That's the nature of college football," Blankenship said of trying to hand the Cougars their first defeat. "The guys that are ranked are fighting to stay ranked and the guys that aren't are fighting for recognition. We're OK with that.
"It's still about Tulsa ... We know the opponent and we know what they are capable of. We have great respect for Houston. I think it's fabulous they have the ranking they have ... By the same token, it doesn't matter to us. That's a team that stands in our way to win the West Division title. I think our guys understand what we've done the last several weeks is what we have to do again."
Houston leads the all-time series 19-17.