Why do University of Houston football fans get so defensive? They seem downright paranoid sometimes. What's with that?
Speaking as a UH alum and longtime Cougar fan myself, I'll tell you. It is because no matter how many positive accomplishments the UH football team and its players deliver on the field, they are ignored by most and ridiculed or dismissed as inconsequential by those few who mention them. Fans of other teams should not, of course, be expected to heap praise on the UH Cougars (although it would be nice if they would refrain from outright lying). What is truly disturbing is the disingenuous and ultimately baseless and indefensible verbiage that is generated by the great majority of "experts": sportswriters and announcers from local, state, and national media, who are paid handsomely for delivering enlightened professional opinions but clearly forgo any sort of meaningful analysis of any but the same wearisome few perennially favored teams and quickly dismiss any UH accomplishments with pat, formulaic arguments.
Am I biased? I'll "admit" that I'm a fan with a Cougar heart. But I also have eyes, ears, and a brain, so I've read, heard, and processed what the "experts" have said. I also have advanced training in statistics, and I have a mathematics degree, so I'm prepared to back up any rah-rah feelings with raw, raw data and I'm prepared to defend the relevance and significance of those numbers, examining them with a depth and breadth that are sufficient to refute the familiar superficial arguments of those who dismiss them.
Enough prologue. Here are some of the facts and numbers, mostly relating to the 2011 football season, presented along with some of the very familiar arguments that have been made to dismiss their significance.
Fact: The Houston Cougars finished the 2011 season 13–1. They were ranked #18 in the final AP poll. UH's record tied them with only one other FBS team, #2 LSU, for the best record in the nation. Three other teams each had only a single loss: #1 Alabama, #3 Oklahoma State, and #8 Boise State, which were all 12–1. Seven 2-loss teams and six 3-loss teams were ranked ahead of UH in the final AP poll.
Familiar dismissive argument: You know why you weren't ranked higher, don't you, UH? Because you played in a weak, weak conference, Conference USA. Your wins mean nothing. And you didn't even win the championship of your own weak, weak conference. Alabama and LSU played in a man's conference, the Southeast Conference, which has an automatic BCS bid! And Boise State, well, OK, they weren't in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference, but remember five years earlier when they beat Oklahoma in a bowl game??! And their quarterback won more games as a starter in his college career than anyone in history even your guy, who played for six years!!
Fact: Quarterback Case Keenum finished his UH career as the all-time NCAA Div. I-A/FBS career statistical leader in total offense, passing yards, completions, passing touchdowns, touchdowns responsible for (passing + rushing), 300-yard games, and 5000-yard seasons. He was given little consideration for the Heisman Trophy and subsequently was not selected by any team in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Familiar dismissive argument: This is too easy! First of all, your guy got six years (or wait was it seven?) to rack up all those meaningless video-game numbers. And your guy is what we experts call a "system quarterback." Your team does nothing but pass, pass, pass, 90% of the time. And you do it against these weak, weak Conference USA teams. You leave him in there to finish meaningless games so he can pad his meaningless stats. Well, NFL scouts are no dummies. They know what Keenum's numbers mean: nothing. Did you hear how he did at the NFL Combine? He showed below-average arm strength. And he's short. Short quarterbacks are useless in the NFL. And all he knows is the shotgun he's probably never heard of playing from under center. And oh yeah what about all the other "great" quarterbacks who came out of UH's system? Where's your Andre Ware, and your David Klingler, and your Kevin Kolb? And what about other guys who came out of these silly air-circus schools? Like, does anybody remember Timmy Chang? LOL!
Familiar dismissive summation: You guys think you're so good. Well, prove it! You've never beaten any real teams. You've never even played any real teams. And you're scared to because you know darn well what would happen. If your Keenan, or Kemon, or whatever the heck his name is, ever faced a real defense, he'd learn a few lessons that is if he ever regained consciousness after getting his face buried in the turf 20 yards behind the line on the first play! Ha ha!
OK, doubters and haters. Now it's my turn.
Let's look first at that 2011 season that saw 13–1 UH ranked #18 while the only other 13-win team was ranked #2 and the only other one-loss teams were ranked #1, #2, #3, and #8. . . .
The comment was repeatedly made that no one knows how UH would have fared against real competition, since they played in the supposedly weak Conference USA. But UH did play two teams from major conferences (conferences whose champions received automatic BCS bowl bids) in 2011, and they defeated both: UCLA from the Pac-12, which UH beat 38–34, and Penn State from the Big Ten, which UH beat 30–14 in the TicketCity Bowl. Both of those teams had success within their own conferences: UCLA was champion of the Pac-12 South Division, while Penn State was co-champion of the Big Ten Leaders Division and was ranked throughout almost the entire season, including when UH faced them.
UH played seven games against bowl-bound teams in the 2011 season. In mounting a 6–1 record in those games, they scored an average of 40.1 points, with an average margin of +13.9.
The following data make what I believe is an even stronger argument: below is a listing of each of the 17 teams that were ranked higher than UH in the 2011 final AP poll. UH did not play against any of these teams in 2011 but did have at least one common opponent with 11 of them, and had two common opponents with two of them. Here are the scores comparing UH's performances against common opponents with higher-ranked teams in 2011:
#1 Alabama defeated Penn State 27–11, defeated North Texas 41–0
UH defeated Penn State 30–14, defeated North Texas 48–23
#2 LSU none
#3 Oklahoma State defeated Tulsa 59–33
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#4 Oregon none
#5 Arkansas none
#6 USC defeated UCLA 50–0
UH defeated UCLA 38–34
#7 Stanford defeated UCLA 45–19
UH defeated UCLA 38–34
#8 Boise State defeated Tulsa 41–21
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#9 South Carolina defeated East Carolina 56–37
UH defeated East Carolina 56–3
#10 Wisconsin defeated Penn State 45–7
UH defeated Penn State 30–14
#11 Michigan State none
#12 Michigan none
#13 Baylor defeated Rice 56–31
UH defeated Rice 73–34
#14 TCU lost to SMU 40–33, defeated Louisiana Tech 31–24
UH defeated SMU 37–7, defeated Louisiana Tech 35–34
#15 Kansas State none
#16 Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 47–14
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#17 West Virginia defeated Marshall 34–13
UH defeated Marshall 63–28
Here's what it looks like to me, comparing each UH performance to each higher-ranked team's (skipping the teams that had no common opponents with UH):
(1) Alabama: pretty much a wash. UH scored more points against each, but Bama's shutout of UNT might give the Tide a slight advantage overall.
(3) Oklahoma State: OSU +26; UH +32. Advantage UH.
(6) USC: OK definitely advantage USC here (though UH did at least win their game).
(7) Stanford: advantage Stanford (though UH did at least win their game).
(8) Boise State: UH scored more points and allowed fewer. Definitely advantage UH.
(9) South Carolina: really huge advantage UH.
(10) Wisconsin: advantage Wisconsin (though UH did at least win their game).
(13) Baylor: big advantage UH.
(14) TCU: huge advantage UH. TCU lost to a team that UH defeated by 30! (Give TCU small props for beating the other common opponent by a few more points than UH did.)
(16) Oklahoma: a wash, though UH did score one more point!
(17) West Virginia: big advantage UH.
I would like to point out (and probably will do so again in similar cases) that the list above is complete: I didn't pick and choose results to put UH in the best light. That's why USC, Stanford, and Wisconsin are shown. I have nothing to hide. So I'll admit it: UH didn't do better than all the higher-ranked teams against common opponents. But they did do better (and usually much better) than most of the higher-ranked teams against common opponents. And in no case did UH lose to a team that a higher-ranked team defeated.
I will now face the music. . . .
UH lost a game in 2011!!
How pathetic! How can UH hold up its head?! How can they expect any sane person to take them seriously?! And here's the worst of it: they lost to a team in that awful Conference USA!
OK. Let me point out for the umpteenth time that no team in the country went undefeated. Every team ranked ahead of UH had either one, two, or three losses, and still got taken seriously, more seriously than UH. So it must have been UH's schedule, and it must have been that the team UH lost to was really bad.
Nope. UH, being in a conference, played a conference schedule(!). That's what's required of any team in any conference. In the regular season, they went undefeated (8–0) in conference play. Of all the 17 higher-ranked teams, here are the ones that went undefeated in their regular-season conference play:
Yep. That's it. But Conference USA is supposed to be easy, so UH better not have just won but dominated their opponents! OK. . .
UH beat their regular-season C-USA opponents by:
7, 53, 35, 39, 43, 56, 30, and 32.
But there's that C-USA Championship Game. UH lost to a C-USA team. This proves conclusively that UH was a bad team, right?
Well, here's a possibility nobody seems to want to consider: the team, Southern Miss, that beat UH was a really good team!
Oh, great. Now I'm so desperate to show UH was good that in order to make my argument I have to go into contortions and try to get people to believe there were two(?!) good teams in C-USA!
Well, Southern Miss finished the 2011 season 12–2. Their only losses were on the road, by 6 points and by 3 points. They were champions of their division. They were ranked throughout almost all of the second half of the season, including a final #20 ranking following their bowl-game victory. They defeated the only major-conference team on their schedule (Virginia, who finished their own season with winning records in both conference and overall play) and Southern Miss did end up beating UH, then a top-10 team, the only ranked team they faced, making Southern Miss conference champions. Sounds pretty good to me. Maybe their fans should feel disrespected! (One might even ask: if Southern Miss and UH were from the same conference and thus faced similar competition, and USM won by 21 when the two went head-to-head, why shouldn't USM be ranked ahead of UH? Well, that one is easy. The main reason: UH lost one game overall; USM two. You could, though, also throw in the fact that the two teams USM did lose to were teams that UH also faced and defeated by margins of 35 and 43 points!)
For the most part, I'm trying to avoid making excuses for UH (and a team that went 13–1 shouldn't need many anyway!). But they did lose that one game to a team that on that day, anyway played better. If I'm going to resort to using an excuse, even just this one time, it had better be a good one. Well, it came out after UH's loss to Southern Miss that Houston's head coach, Kevin Sumlin, had been out of town for several days just prior to the game and had left it to his assistants to prepare the team. What was Sumlin doing? He was interviewing for another job. This turned out to be no idle rumor: two days after the game, Sumlin accepted the head coaching position at Texas A&M. He left Houston immediately, not even staying for UH's bowl game.
While I'm at it, just how pitiful is Conference USA, really? For years, the familiar rap on C-USA as a whole has been its perennial abject failure during bowl season, when it has a chance to show how it performs in comparison to other conferences. This argument might have had some merit in previous seasons. But let's look at the scores of the five 2011-season bowl games in which C-USA teams (shown in bold) participated:
Marshall 20, Florida International 10
Southern Miss 24, Nevada 17
BYU 24, Tulsa 21
Houston 30, Penn State 14
SMU 28, Pitt 6.
So: Tulsa, which lost by 3 on a come-from-behind score by BYU with 11 seconds remaining, was the only C-USA team to lose a bowl game. C-USA's 2011 bowl record was 4–1 (average scoring margin +10.4); their bowl record against teams from major (BCS AQ) conferences was 2–0 (average margin +19); and their bowl record against ranked teams was 1–0 (margin +16).
Let's look in a little more detail at UH's TicketCity Bowl victory over Penn State. Predictably, in the days leading up to the matchup, the experts repeated over and over that "Houston has never seen a defense like this." Translation: the eye-popping offensive numbers UH had compiled to that point were meaningless. Not only was Penn State a Big Ten team with a Big Ten defense: their defense was ranked in the top ten in the nation (for fewest yards allowed), and in particular the Nittany Lions were ranked #4 in the country in passing defense. And, most importantly, they had achieved these rankings in the process of playing real teams: a full season against tough, powerful Big Ten offenses! UH, the experts said, was totally reliant, completely dependent, on its passing game. So when this Big Ten juggernaut of a defense showed the poor little C-USA offense from UH how the big boys play, they'd shut it down. The pregame rhetoric was almost as strong with claims that Penn State's great rushing game, operating behind its huge and athletic offensive line, would run through the famously porous UH defense at will with no resistance. The kids from Houston were going to be in for a long, frustrating, humiliating afternoon. . . .
So what happened? Did the big Penn State men teach the little Houston boys a lesson, thwarting the Coogies' puny efforts from the first play? Nooooo. Well, then perhaps UH bravely and gallantly played their little hearts out and actually managed a couple of completions and maybe even a first down(!) before the superior Big Ten thoroughbreds crushed them. Nooooo. Well (this sounds impossible), maybe UH miraculously stood up to the mighty Lions and matched them blow-for-blow for a while before ultimately giving way!! Um, no.
Here's what happened: the Houston Cougar offense toyed all day long with Penn State's vaunted pass defense. In the first quarter alone, Houston quarterback Case Keenum passed for 227 yards (no misprint), which set an NCAA Div. I-A/FBS record for the most passing yards by any team in any quarter of any bowl game, ever. UH led 17–0 after the first quarter. Thereafter, the Cougars coasted to a 30–14 win. For the game, Keenum passed for 532 yards and 3 touchdowns, with no interceptions. . . against a team, Penn State, that, having faced powerful Big Ten offenses all year, had yielded an average of 162 yards passing per game, the fourth fewest of any team in the country.
[Update: Keenum's bowl game record for passing yards in a quarter has since been exceeded one time: in the fourth quarter of the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl. The quarterback who set the new record, 237 yards, was Greg Ward, Jr., of . . . the Houston Cougars.]
Well, of course UH got their long-sought-after recognition and acknowledgement of greatness after their dismantling of Penn State. The ESPN game recap burst out of the gate with a flurry of superlatives for the great Houston Cougars' performance!!!!! To wit:
"DALLAS -- Pacing the Penn State sideline just the way his dad did for 46 seasons, Jay Paterno couldn't help but wonder what JoePa might be doing back home in Happy Valley.
"A 30-14 loss to Houston at the TicketCity Bowl on Monday ended a tumultuous season for a program shrouded with uncertainty following the firing of a Hall of Fame coach in the aftermath of a child sex-abuse scandal that shook college sports.
"'It wasn't easy. ... It wasn't easy on game day without him because you think about him,' said Jay Paterno, Penn State's quarterbacks coach. 'I always came to work knowing we had an ace up our sleeve in Joe because of all of his experience, so yeah it was tough.'
"For the players, too.
"'We've been to hell and back in a lot of ways, more so for our kids,' Paterno said. 'They did nothing.'
"The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions were picked apart by Case Keenum and the 20th-ranked Cougars. . . . "
Wait. Hold it. This is all about Penn State. Houston hardly gets mentioned. When it does, it wasn't a "Houston win"; rather it was a "loss to Houston." In paragraph 6, when UH is finally mentioned for the second time, "the . . . Nittany Lions were picked apart by . . . the. . . Cougars." Passive voice to keep "The Nittany Lions" as the subject of that sentence, and by maintaining that style ultimately of the article as a whole. That must have been from the Penn State student newspaper. No? From the State College town paper? No. Maybe the Big Ten conference's website? Again, no. No, that's ESPN, the national network and sports-reporting service.
I want to make it clear that the ESPN story quoted here was the primary game recap, not some companion human-interest piece. The story was accessible via a link on the "ESPN College Football Scoreboard" page that gave the linescores for all 35 bowl games played by FBS teams at the end of the 2011 season. Under each linescore was a clickable link to the recap for that game. Looking at the wording ESPN chose for those 35 links called to my mind the Sesame Street song:
"One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others? . . ." (Hint: it's in bold print.) Here are the 35 headlines:
"Temple blasts Wyoming to win New Mexico Bowl"
"Ohio rallies past Utah St. in Potato Bowl stunner"
"Baer's 50-yard FG lifts La.-Lafayette vs. SDSU"
"Cato picks up Marshall in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl"
"TCU fights off pesky La. Tech in Poinsettia Bowl"
"Boise St. rolls to easy bowl win vs. Arizona St."
"No. 21 S. Miss wins Hawaii Bowl in Fedora finale"
"Missouri runs by UNC to win Independence Bowl"
"Purdue survives W. Michigan in wild Pizza Bowl"
"Glennon's 3 TDs spur NC State to Belk Bowl win"
"Blown 2-point conversion gives Toledo bowl win"
"QB Ash catches TD as Texas takes Holiday Bowl"
"Florida St. rallies in 2nd half to beat Notre Dame"
"Alamo Bowl: Griffin powers high-scoring Baylor"
"BYU's TD on final drive wins Armed Forces Bowl"
"Rutgers fights off Iowa St. to win Pinstripe Bowl"
"Ballard runs Mississippi State past Wake Forest"
"Bell, Sooners hold off Hawkeyes in Insight Bowl"
"A&M survives late NU rally for Meineke bowl win"
"Utah rallies from down 14, wins Sun Bowl in OT"
"Illinois halts skid with Fight Hunger Bowl victory"
"Kickoff return TD sparks Cincinnati past Vandy"
"Auburn's offense rips Virginia in Chick-fil-A Bowl"
"Penn State's trying season ends with bowl loss"
"Special teams key Florida's win over Ohio State"
"Michigan St. outlasts UGA in 3OTs at Outback"
"Shaw tosses 2 TDs as Gamecocks rout Huskers"
"Oregon gashes Wisconsin in record-setting Rose"
"Okla. St. nips Luck, Stanford in OT Fiesta thriller"
"Sugar sweet: Michigan ekes past Va. Tech in OT"
"W. Virginia explodes for 70 in Orange Bowl rout"
"Adams, Arkansas defeat K-State in Cotton Bowl"
"SMU routs Pitt to capture BBVA Compass Bowl"
"Moore, N. Illinois cruise in GoDaddy.com Bowl"
"Bama suffocates LSU to claim BCS national title"
If you guessed the onethe only onethat did not mention the winning team, then you're absolutely. . . right! And what was the name of that one winner out of 35 whose existence wasn't important enough for ESPN to acknowledge? That's right, boys and girls: it's the Houston Cougars! (On the other hand, why should anyone expect a national network such as ESPN to pay any attention to UH when even local Houston readers are daily exhorted to "Visit Click2Houston.com for the latest . . . sports news and scores for the Houston Texans, Rockets, Astros, Dynamo, Texas A&M, Texas Longhorns and more from NBC TV's local affiliate in Houston, Texas, KPRC - Houston's Channel 2."? Maybe "Click2Houston in Houston - Houston's Channel 2" just forgot about the two FBS football programs [one of them named "Houston"] within the city limits of Houston.)
Anyway, Penn State had four players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
Just prior to UH's 2011 regular-season C-USA matchup with Tulsa, a sports talk show I watched on the Fox Southwest Sports network aired a discussion between two professional sports analysts, neither affiliated with either school but allegedly unbiased experts from the network. One asked the other (the wording is as I remember it perhaps not verbatim but very close): "So two questions: One, can the Tulsa Golden Hurricane beat the Houston Cougars? and two, does Houston's quarterback, Case Keenum, deserve to be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy?" Expert number two didn't hesitate for a second. With an ear-to-ear knowing grin (of a sort very familiar to Cougar fans), he gleefully replied: "Not only can Tulsa beat Houston, they will beat Houston. As for Keenum, sure, you can put him in the Heisman conversation: after all, you need some kind of recognition for a guy who's played in college for ten years!!!" (Howls of laughter ensued.)
So how did that game turn out? Houston 48, Tulsa 16.
And then there's SMU. I remember reading a sports column in the days preceding the 2011 UH–SMU game in which the writer mentioned that betting on SMU to beat UH was the "chic" pick among sports media insiders. Why was that? SMU, competing in the same division of the same conference as UH, came into the game with a 6–4 record (average scoring margin +4.1); UH was then 10–0 (average scoring margin +31.9). SMU was 5–2 in conference play (average scoring margin +6.7); UH, meanwhile, was 6–0 in conference (average scoring margin +38.8). UH had won each of the previous five annual meetings over SMU:
2006: Houston 37, SMU 27
2007: Houston 38, SMU 28
2008: Houston 44, SMU 38
2009: Houston 38, SMU 15
2010: Houston 45, SMU 20,
defeating the Ponies by more than a three-touchdown margin in each of the last two games. Did the experts, in their chicness, know something that ordinary mortals were too stupid to see?
Evidently not. . . .
2011: Houston 37, SMU 7.
But the experts got the last laugh, as usual. After one SMU player had been chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft, four Mustangs were picked in 2012. How many UH players were drafted in 2011 and 2012? Respectively: zero and zero.
Harking back to 2009 for a moment, there is a perfect example of how ESPN's level of disrespect for UH has been consistent over the years. Their so-called "Houston–Oklahoma St. Preview" hardly mentioned UH, then concluded, in a sidebar:
"The [Oklahoma State] Cowboys begin the cupcake portion of their schedule with a home contest against Houston, followed by Rice and Grambling State. Oklahoma State's biggest challenge will be not playing down to the level of its opponents."
UH must have been a truly pathetic team that day in Stillwater, because #5 Oklahoma State played down to a score of:
Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35.
But you can't fool the experts: they still ranked Oklahoma State higher than the undefeated Cougars in all the polls the following week. That's right: in the next AP poll, Oklahoma State's 1–1 record, which included a double-digit loss at home to an unranked team, earned them a #16 ranking; while UH's 2–0 record, which included a double-digit win on the road over the #5 team in the nation, was good for #21.
Why was TCU ranked ahead of UH in the final 2011-season poll? At that time, both were in "mid-major" (non-BCS-AQ) conferences. TCU had two losses overall; UH had one. Both of TCU's losses were to unranked teams (one of which UH beat by 30); UH's sole loss was to a ranked team. TCU faced only one ranked team all season; they did beat them, but it was by only one point. UH faced two ranked teams, and though they faltered against one of them (in their only loss of the season) they beat the other by 16. TCU played only one game against a team from a major conference, and lost; UH played two (as explained above, both of those teams were division champions or co-champions in their own major conferences) and won both, by a double-digit-average margin.
TCU had two players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
. . . [Update, 2016] . . . Following its historic 2015 season, the UH football team was finally granted a measure of the respect that had been withheld from it in some previous seasons (e.g., 2011): the final AP poll ranked the 13–1 Houston Cougars #8. To ask for more, to suggest a higher ranking, would probably seem greedy and ungrateful. However, one distinction was denied UH: bragging rights as the top team in Texas. The experts bestowed that title on the TCU Horned Frogs, which finished 2015 ranked #7 in the AP poll. Football fans and media around the nation couldn't stop gushing over TCU's gutsy performance in the Alamo Bowl, in which the Horned Frogs rallied from a 31–0 deficit at halftime to prevail over the Oregon Ducks in three overtimes, 47–41. Why not just praise such a display of brilliance and greatness, and admit the experts were right in proclaiming the Frogs' superiority to the UH Cougars and TCU's supremacy among Texas teams in 2015? Because. . . . . .
TCU was 11–2 overall, with an average scoring margin of +14.8 . . . UH was 13–1 overall, with an average scoring margin of +19.7.
TCU was 10–2 vs. FBS opponents, with an average scoring margin of +10.8 . . . UH was 12–1 vs. FBS opponents, with an average scoring margin of +19.1.
TCU was 9–2 vs. opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of +10.1 . . . UH was 3–0 vs. opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of +17.0.
TCU was 2–2 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents, with an average scoring margin of –2.0 . . . UH was 4–0 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents, with an average scoring margin of +11.8.
TCU was 2–2 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of –2.0 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents from Power 5 conferences, with a scoring margin of +14.
TCU was 1–1 vs. AP top-10 opponents, with an average scoring margin of +3.0 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. AP top-10 opponents, with a scoring margin of +14.
TCU was 1–0 vs. SMU, their only common opponent with UH, with a scoring margin of +19 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. SMU, their only common opponent with TCU, with a scoring margin of +21.
TCU was 5–0 vs. teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +27.0 . . . UH was 2–0 vs. teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +33.0.
TCU was 4–0 vs. FBS teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +18.0 . . . UH was 2–0 vs. FBS teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +33.0.
Finally, and perhaps most pointedly:
In a 2nd-tier bowl, TCU, after falling behind by 31, needed three overtimes to defeat a lower-ranked (#15) team by 6 points. . . In a New Year's Six bowl, UH never trailed as they easily and soundly defeated a higher-ranked (#9) and highly-favored team by 14.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . That's why.
West Virginia ranked ahead of UH in the final 2011 poll? This is a real head-scratcher. WVU lost three games! Two of those were to teams that were never ranked at any point during the season, and one of those losses was by 26 points! After briefly dropping out of the rankings, West Virginia vaulted back in on the strength of a 1-point win over Pittsburgh, an unranked team that UH's C-USA "rival" SMU would later beat by 22 (shortly after SMU fell to UH by 30). And as a reminder: UH and West Virginia had one common opponent in 2011: Marshall, which WVU beat by 21, and UH beat by 35.
West Virginia had three players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
. . . [Update, 2016] . . . UH finished the 2015 season 13–1, ranked #8 in the AP poll after going 4–0 against ranked teams, including a beatdown of then #9 Florida State in the Peach Bowl, a New Year's Six bowl game. . . . But eight months later, on the eve of UH's 2016-season-opening game vs. Oklahoma, our friends at ESPN were sticking to their well-established guns. A particularly hateful column by ESPN staff writer Ted Miller, entitled "Houston has no chance," starts with the oh-so-original line "Houston, we have a problem." Mr. Miller goes on to favor us with his wisdom and dazzle with his insight:
"College Football Playoff selection committee, we won't have a Houston problem. . . . One thing that won't be up for debate will be the Group of 5's inclusion, because its only member with a legitimate shot at a playoff berth is going to lose by double-digits to No. 3 Oklahoma. . . . Advanced metrics ranked Oklahoma No. 3. Houston is ranked 46th. . . . Houston's claim as a barrier-breaking playoff contender . . . is dispelled by a deeper look at advanced metrics."
So how did that game turn out?
Houston 33, Oklahoma 23.
Evidently the Cougars didn't look deeply enough at advanced metrics.
(And two weeks later, as I write this, the Oklahoma Sooners are 1–2, with both losses by double digits [10 and 22 points]. Their only win is over Louisiana-Monroe, a Sun Belt Conference team with a losing record. And Oklahoma is still ranked in the AP Poll! No, of course there's not a double standard. . . .)
I could go on with this for a while. You get the point.
Much was made of the fact that UH couldn't even win their own conference in 2011. UH did at least win their division (after being the only C-USA team to go undefeated in regular-season play) and played in their conference championship game. The following teams that finished the 2011 season ranked higher than UH also did not win their own conferences:
#1 Alabama (finished second in their division; did not even qualify to play in conference championship game)
#5 Arkansas (finished third in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#6 USC (ineligible for conference championship: on probation)
#7 Stanford (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#8 Boise State (finished second in conference standings)
#9 South Carolina (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#11 Michigan State (lost conference championship game)
#12 Michigan (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#13 Baylor (finished tied for third in conference standings)
#15 Kansas State (finished second in conference standings)
#16 Oklahoma (finished tied for third in conference standings)
A point that needs to be emphasized here regarding those teams that did not qualify to play in their conference championship games is that in so doing they were spared the possibility of losing that game. #1 Alabama, #5 Arkansas, #7 Stanford, #9 South Carolina, and #12 Michigan were in conferences that held conference championship games, but none of them needed to worry about losing that game because based on their regular-season records, none of them was good enough to be eligible to play in it! #6 USC was in a conference that held a conference championship game, but it didn't need to worry about losing that game because it was on probation, banned from postseason play due to massive rules violations on the part of its athletics programs. #8 Boise State, #13 Baylor, #15 Kansas State, and #16 Oklahoma, being in conferences that did not play championship games, were not exposed to the possibility of losing such a game, and the fact that none of them had the best record in their respective conferences suggests they may very well have lost had there been a conference championship game for them to play in. The Houston Cougars, on the other hand, had an 8–0 regular season and thus were good enough to qualify for the C-USA Championship Game; unfortunately for them, their "reward" was that they happened to lose it, spoiling what might well have been a perfect season.
I very frequently read scoffing remarks that the Houston Cougars are afraid to schedule games against big-name teams. That is sheer and utter nonsense, on multiple levels. UH relishes any and every opportunity to line up against a traditional powerhouse program. As is documented throughout this essay, the Cougars more often than not have come out on top in such battles when they have occurred in recent seasons and even if UH were to lose a game to one of those fabled programs, the general response would be "So what? That was supposed to happen." But when the Cougars go onto the field and vanquish a Penn State or a UCLA or a Mississippi State or a Texas Tech or an Oklahoma State or a Pitt or a Louisville (twice) or a Vanderbilt or a Florida State or an Oklahoma or an Arizona (twice) (and all of those are just since 2009!), those schools are embarrassed to have been shown up by some little mid-major pretender of a program. So who should be afraid? UH has much to gain and little to lose by playing against big-name programs, and Cougar fans heartily welcome every such chance.
Case Keenum was the starting quarterback for the Houston Cougars in recent seasons. The disrespect Keenum was shown by fans, the media, and "experts" everywhere was exceeded only by the rampant ignorance and misinformation that contributed to it.
Case Keenum broke many all-time NCAA Division I-A/FBS career passing records, the following being among them:
Passing yards: 19,217. (Timmy Chang ranks 2nd, with 17,072.)
Passing touchdowns: 155. (Kellen Moore ranks 2nd, with 142.)
Touchdowns responsible for: 178. (Dan LeFevour ranks 2nd, with 150.)
Completions: 1546. (Graham Harrell ranks 2nd, with 1403.)
Total offensive yards: 20,114. (Timmy Chang ranks 2nd, with 16,910.)
300-yard passing games: 39. (Timmy Chang ranks 2nd, with 36.)
5000-yard passing seasons: 3. (Graham Harrell ranks 2nd, with 2.)
Pundits everywhere have been quick to supply the same pat explanations for how Keenum came to accumulate these numbers (he played for six or seven years; he was kept in until the final possession of blowout games so that he could pad his stats; 90% of UH's plays were passes) and how the numbers don't really mean anything (because these big numbers came against weak C-USA defenses, and he would have been held to very ordinary more likely subpar numbers if he ever played tough teams).
In fact, it requires remarkably little examination of the facts to show that such dismissive explanations for Keenum's success have no basis whatsoever in reality and are mostly dependent on the propagation of outright falsehoods (that's right: lies) and the widespread willingness of people to accept them without questioning.
Case Keenum did not play at UH for six years. Even now, when his name is mentioned, it's almost inevitably followed with ". . . who received a sixth year of eligibility. . . ." Listeners are expected to shake their heads and chuckle with the "knowledge" that since everybody else gets only four, Keenum played 50% more games than any other college football player in history!!!! Well, that's just silly. Case Keenum's name was listed on the Houston Cougars' roster for six seasons, all right 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 but let's look at his role in each of those seasons. . . .
2006: Keenum was a true freshman. He was redshirted and did not play. At all.
2007: "Redshirt freshman" year. Keenum started the season as a backup QB to Blake Joseph. He won the regular starting position about halfway through the season. He started a total of seven games in '07.
2008: "Redshirt sophomore" year. Keenum was the regular starting QB throughout the season.
2009: "Redshirt junior" year. Keenum was the regular starting QB throughout the season.
2010: Keenum played the first half only of game one, a 40-point blowout win by UH over Texas State. In game two, a 30-point win over UTEP, he suffered a concussion and was taken out in the 3rd quarter. In the 2nd quarter of game three at UCLA, Keenum suffered a torn ACL, was carted off the field, and did not play for the remainder of the season. (He did graduate with a bachelor's degree that December and enrolled in graduate school in the spring 2011 semester [which I mention because I heard, so many dozens of times: "Don't they ever graduate down there in Texas? LOL!!"]). Keenum, having played five full quarters and two more partial quarters the equivalent of about 1.5 games applied to the NCAA for a medical-hardship redshirt for the 2010 season. He was granted the redshirt.
2011: "Redshirt senior" year. Keenum was the regular starting QB throughout the season.
Recap: Keenum was the regular starting quarterback throughout the season for three years (2008, '09, '11) and about half of another ('07).
It should be emphasized that the redshirting of true freshmen is extremely commonplace on all teams throughout the country, probably applying in many more cases than not. Fifth-year seniors are pretty much the norm, so Keenum's "sixth-year-senior" status in 2011 doesn't seem quite so extreme in comparison.
Still, most players get a maximum of four seasons to accumulate stats. Keenum did play in 2010 up to the time of his injury, and the stats he accumulated in the first three games of that season did count in his career totals. So the 2010 season didn't count against his four seasons of college eligibility, but statistically he gets to count positive contributions from five different seasons, and then he still gets listed as the career leader in all those categories. Is that fair?? Well, perhaps that's a valid point of protest. So just for the sake of argument, let's see what happens when those 2010 season statistics are taken away from Keenum's career totals, and we just count Keenum's numbers from 2007, '08, '09, and '11. That way he will be assessed on a level playing field with everybody else. Bet he'll slip way down the list now!! Here are those adjusted career numbers (2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 seasons only) and where he would then rank among NCAA Div. I-A/FBS players all-time:
Passing yards: 18,581 (1st). (Timmy Chang would still be 2nd, with 17,072.)
Passing touchdowns: 150 (1st). (Kellen Moore would still be 2nd, with 142.)
Touchdowns responsible for: 173 (1st). (Dan LeFevour would still be 2nd, with 150.)
Completions: 1504 (1st). (Graham Harrell would still be 2nd, with 1403.)
Total offensive yards: 19,407 (1st). (Timmy Chang would still be 2nd, with 16,910.)
300-yard passing games: 39 (1st). (Timmy Chang would still be 2nd, with 36.)
5000-yard passing seasons: 3 (1st). (Graham Harrell would still be 2nd, with 2.)
Oh. Never mind.
Now what about the competition he faced? Isn't it obvious he racked up all those big numbers because he was in C-USA and never faced any real teams? It doesn't take much effort to destroy that myth. Keenum's performance against Penn State's reputedly awesome pass defense in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl, discussed above, could put that to rest all by itself. But that performance was no fluke, no aberration. In fact, it was perfectly typical of Keenum's performances throughout his career against top teams. . . .
Case Keenum started five games against ranked teams in his career:
UH 41, @ (#23) East Carolina 24. Keenum: 36 of 44 for 399 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. Passer rating: 174.6.
UH 70, (#25) Tulsa 30. Keenum: 24 of 37 for 402 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs. Passer rating: 209.6.
UH 45, @ (#5) Oklahoma State 35. Keenum: 32 of 46 for 366 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. Passer rating: 153.6.
(#23) Southern Miss 49, UH 28. Keenum: 41 of 67 for 373 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT. Passer rating: 111.8.
UH 30, (#23) Penn State 14 (TicketCity Bowl @ Dallas). Keenum: 45 of 69 for 532 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT. Passer rating: 144.3.
Career record as a starter against ranked teams: 4–1. Average points scored by UH: 42.8. Average margin: +12.4.
(Thus Keenum's 45-completion, 532-yard, 3-TD, 0-interception methodical, NCAA-record-breaking annihilation of the Penn State defense, when assessed by passer rating, actually turned out to be the second-weakest performance of his career against ranked teams!)
Ironic, isn't it, that UH's only loss to a ranked team in the five such matchups in Keenum's career as a starting quarterback in fact, UH's only failure to defeat a ranked team by double digits(!) in those games was to a team from. . . Conference USA. In the only two games in his career when Keenum had the opportunity to start against ranked teams from major conferences, he went 2–0, completing 77 passes for 898 yards and 6 TDs. Two games is a small sample? Sure it is. But the point is that anything less than a great quarterback could never have put up numbers at that rate against that kind of competition not for two games, not for one game, not for one quarter.
How does one answer the charge that Keenum's ridiculously high, "video-game" career passing numbers can easily be explained by the "fact" that all the UH offense ever did under Keenum was pass, pass, pass, 90% of the time? (I have heard that percentage casually and derisively thrown out by "experts" on more than one occasion.) Well, if a team has one of the greatest passing offenses in the history of the sport, paired with a, shall we say, fairly decent running game, and it's trying to win games, then which should it use more, if it has any sense? But 90% passing plays? Not even close. In 2011, the UH offense passed 682 times and ran the ball 420 times. That's 61.9% passing plays. I must admit that even I was surprised to learn that Cougar running back Bryce Beall finished his four years at UH ranked third all-time in school history in career rushing yardage and first in rushing touchdowns. The Cougars have been competing in football since 1946, and for about the first forty of those seasons they were a heavily run-oriented team (Bill Yeoman, who invented the Veer, a run-based offense that perennially kept the Cougars as a team at or near the top of the national rankings in yards gained, was head coach at UH for 25 years). Yet Beall, who would lead his own team in rushing yards for only two of his four seasons, and was even benched with an injury for much of 2011, his senior season, ran for more yards in his career than all but two of his predecessors from the previous 65 seasonsand finished his career with 26% more career rushing touchdowns than any previous Cougar. And Beall accomplished this while spending all his years as a Cougar in the same backfield with Case Keenum playing quarterback. Meanwhile, the career of another UH running back, Charles Sims, overlapped with the careers of both Keenum and Beall for all but one year. Sims finished his career ranked third all-time among Cougar running backs in rushing touchdowns. So the suggestion that UH under Keenum did nothing but pass, pass, pass is another myth that is easily turned aside.
Another very frequently heard, and equally baseless, accusation is that Keenum was kept in until the ends of blowout games so that he could pad his stats. Anyone who actually followed UH football knows from simple observation that this is completely untrue. But in case one requires evidence. . . In 2011, UH scored more than 60 points in a game three times: a 63–28 defeat of Marshall, a 73–34 win over Rice, and a 73–17 defeat of Tulane. As 60+ scoring outputs might be taken as the strongest evidence in support of accusations of running up the score and leaving Keenum in to pass on every down for stats-padding purposes, let's examine these three cases more closely:
In UH's 63–28 win over Marshall, Keenum threw 28 passes: his fewest attempts in any game of the 2011 season. Only seven of those pass attempts were in the second half, with only two in the fourth quarter.
In UH's 73–34 win over Rice, Keenum threw 37 passes: tied for his fourth fewest attempts in any game of the 2011 season. The fact that nine of those 37 attempts went for touchdowns prompted many detractors to criticize UH and Keenum for classlessness. In this game, cited by legions of UH detractors with angry accusations of the Cougars' running up the score and bad sportsmanship, "poor, helpless" Rice scored 34 points and amassed 475 yards of total offense, including 359 yards rushing. Rice led 17–7 late in the first quarter and was still ahead more than halfway through the second quarter. Rice was +2 in turnovers. And Rice is a crosstown rival, which had beaten UH the previous year in a game in which UH's starting quarterback, David Piland, was a true freshman who had begun the year as a non-active redshirt. . . . And still, in the the 2011 Rice game, Keenum, having thrown four passes in the 4th quarter, was taken out for a backup with almost 11 minutes remaining following a touchdown that would be UH's only score of the quarter.
In UH's 73–17 win over Tulane, Keenum threw 29 passes: his second fewest attempts in any game of the 2011 season. The Cougars, who supposedly never did anything but pass, pass, and pass, rushed the ball against Tulane 27 times for 292 yards. Keenum was taken out midway through the 3rd quarter. His backup, Cotton Turner, played until midway through the 4th quarter, at which point the 3rd-string QB, Crawford Jones, came in to finish the game. Keenum's last pass came with 6:16 left in the 3rd. In the last 17 minutes of the game clock, UH's only scores were a touchdown run from 35 yards out by the 2nd-string quarterback and a punt-return touchdown by a backup special-teams player.
Another taunt heard frequently is that there's nothing special about Keenum: he didn't play in a major conference, and anybody could put up numbers like that against the weak competition he faced. Well, that makes no sense at all. If there were any legitimacy to that claim, wouldn't the lists of all-time NCAA Div. I-A/FBS career leaders in passing yardage and touchdowns show hundreds of names of quarterbacks from mid-major conferences with 15,000+ yards and 150+ TD passes? So where are they? Timmy Chang of Hawaiʻi is second all-time behind Keenum in career passing yardage, trailing by 2,145 yards. That's more than 1.2 miles. Literally, no one has come within a mile of Case Keenum in passing yardage. (In fact, Chang and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell [at 1.95 miles behind] are the only quarterbacks from any FBS program who have come within two miles of Keenum.) (N.B.: A year later, following the 2012 season, Landry Jones of Oklahoma finished his collegiate career with 16,646 yards passing, well ahead of Harrell and a mere 1.46 miles behind Keenum.) And Keenum's 155 career passing TDs put him 13 ahead of Kellen Moore of Boise State and 21 ahead of Harrell. Hello? Where is everybody?
The suggestion that anybody could do what Keenum did is belied by the fact that, though thousands have had the opportunity, no one did do (or even came close to doing) what Keenum did.
But Keenum lost some games! Yeah. And so did literally everybody else. But when UH lost, Keenum was blamed. When UH lost to Southern Miss in the 2011 C-USA championship game, Heisman talk about Keenum ceased for good. And that seems a little unfair, because, with all the amazing feats Keenum could perform, there's one thing he couldn't do: play defense.
Let's think about it. Even the most rabid Keenum hater had to admit after UH's victory over then-#24 Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl that Keenum's performance was magnificent, as he led the Cougars to 30 points!
But everybody shook their heads at Keenum's pathetic excuse for a game against then-#24 Southern Miss, as the sorry Cougars could manage only 28 points.
OK. 30 is more than 28. By two points. But here's the thing: if UH had scored 28 instead of 30 against Penn State, they still would have won by two touchdowns. And if the Cougars had put up 30 instead of 28 versus Southern Miss, they still would have lost by 19 points.
Sometimes it matters how many points the other team scores. And there's not much Keenum could do about that. Sometimes you have to point the finger at the UH defense for allowing too many points for Keenum and the offense to overcome. That happened a grand total of one time in the 2011 season, but that was plenty for the doubters: as far as they were concerned, Keenum had proven his incompetence.
So if Keenum is so darned good, why wasn't he drafted? Plenty of quarterbacks were taken in the 2012 draft. A common refrain was: we know how those guys can do. Maybe Keenum's OK, but there's no way to compare him with the QBs from the major conferences, and we're not gonna take a chance.
Of course, that's baloney. There most certainly are ways. Keenum's numbers were consistently outstanding overall, but as already discussed above, his performances against ranked teams over his college career were particularly stellar and all but one were wins.
Those who would dismiss a mid-major program like UH's often make much of the fact that the team is cobbled together from one- and two-star recruits and walk-ons, while teams in the major conferences (can you say "Penn State"?) are brimming with thoroughbreds: four- and five-star recruits who had their pictures on the cover of Sports Illustrated since middle school. You know what? They're right. Case Keenum himself was assessed with two stars (out of five) coming out of high school; UH was the only school that offered him a full football scholarship. But here's the other side of that coin: Keenum played quarterback behind an offensive line made up of those ragtag kids nobody wanted. He threw to receivers nobody recruited. His alternative to passing was to hand off to running backs nobody's heard of. And his mission was to lead his UH offense of nobodies to score more points than the UH defense of nobodies allowed. . . . And he still led UH to wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Mississippi State, UCLA, Penn State, . . . . The big-name quarterbacks, the Andrew Lucks and Robert Griffin IIIs and Ryan Tannehills and Brandon Weedens of the world, had those blue-chippers all around them on offense and taking care of business on defense. And they still lost plenty of games.
UH is used to doing more with less. But it would be nice if somebody noticed that and acknowledged it once in a while.
I said there are ways to compare Keenum with big-name quarterbacks, and I daresay I've come up with a very fair one. . . .
I preface the following with the remark that quarterback passer rating is widely accepted as a reliable measure of efficiency: that is, the quality (not the quantity) of a quarterback's performance. When all else is equal, more attempts will lower, not raise, a QB's rating. So a team that does nothing but pass, pass, pass will not be rewarded here.
Consider a simple question:
In each instance in which both Case Keenum and any one (or more) of the quarterbacks selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced the same opposing team during the same season in college, how did their performances compare?
The results are below. For each comparison, the individual quarterbacks are listed in decreasing order of their passer ratings. (N.B. These data are complete. I did not pick and choose results that would make Keenum look good.)
Keenum (UH) vs. UAB: Passer rating 141.9, win.
3rd-round draftee Nick Foles (Michigan State) vs. UAB: Rating 122.4, win.
No other quarterback selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced a common opponent with Keenum in 2007.
Keenum (UH) vs. Oklahoma State: Rating 132.3, loss.
1st-round draftee Robert Griffin III (Baylor) vs. Oklahoma State: Rating 106.0, loss.
Keenum (UH) vs. East Carolina: Rating 174.6, win.
3rd-round draftee Russell Wilson (North Carolina State) vs. East Carolina: Rating 156.6, win.
No other quarterback selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced a common opponent with Keenum in 2008.
Keenum (UH) vs. Northwestern State: Rating 221.2, win.
1st-round draftee Robert Griffin III (Baylor) vs. Northwestern State: Rating 220.4, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. Texas Tech: Rating 130.8, win.
4th-round draftee Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) vs. Texas Tech: Rating 114.0, loss.
No other quarterback selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced a common opponent with Keenum in 2009.
2nd-round draftee Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) vs. UCLA: Rating 200.3, win.
1st-round draftee Andrew Luck (Stanford) vs. UCLA: Rating 126.2, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. UCLA: Rating 72.1, loss.
No other quarterback selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced a common opponent with Keenum in 2010.
1st-round draftee Andrew Luck (Stanford) vs. UCLA: Rating 192.5, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. UCLA: Rating 156.6, win.
3rd-round draftee Nick Foles (Arizona) vs. UCLA: Rating 149.6, win.
2nd-round draftee Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) vs. UCLA: Rating 133.6, loss.
Keenum (UH) vs. Rice: Rating 261.0, win.
1st-round draftee Robert Griffin III (Baylor) vs. Rice: Rating 223.9, win.
1st-round draftee Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) vs. SMU: Rating 185.6, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. SMU: Rating 156.6, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. Tulsa: Rating 191.1, win.
1st-round draftee Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) vs. Tulsa: Rating 169.0, win.
Keenum (UH) vs. Penn State: Rating 144.3, win.
3rd-round draftee Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) vs. Penn State: Rating 142.2, win.
No other quarterback selected in the 2012 NFL Draft faced a common opponent with Keenum in 2011.
It is abundantly evident that Keenum more than held his own against the elite quarterbacks who were selected in the draft: in all but a few instances, he clearly outperformed them in his college career when playing against precisely the same competition. One fact that leaps out for me is that Keenum on three different occasions faced the same team in the same season as Heisman winner, first-round and #2 overall draft pick, 2012 starting NFL quarterback, and fan-and-media darling Robert Griffin III and outperformed him each and every time.
(Update, 2013) . . . . . I ran across an interesting article on the internet. A sports analyst devised a formula for rating a quarterback's performance that takes into account the strengths of opposing defenses. Note that the final value for Keenum's 2011 season, which must have dropped significantly when UH's "easy" schedule was factored in, still ranks second among all quarterback seasons in the eight-year period between 2005 and 2012. Any suggestion that the creator of the formula might for some reason have been biased towards Keenum is belied by the fact that the author's extensive commentary beneath the data table includes references to many of the listed quarterbacks but makes no mention of Keenum.
In light of such data (and so much else pointing to the fact of Keenum's undeniable excellence), one wonders what goes through the minds of NFL team personnel on draft day. As an example, I will cite the choice made by the Green Bay Packers in the 7th round of the 2012 Draft. They chose to select a quarterback. Keenum was still available, but they "knew better" and picked one B. J. Coleman from the Chattanooga Mocs. I do not doubt that Mr. Coleman is a fine person who worked hard and did his best, and certainly I have nothing against him personally. Rather, I am here seriously questioning the mindsets of NFL team experts for so conspicuously passing over Keenum for someone of Coleman's caliber. . . . As frequently remarked above, Keenum's accomplishments were evidently lessened in many people's estimations because he played on a team in Conference USA, which was not one of the FBS's "major" conferences (conferences whose champions automatically qualified for a place in one of the BCS bowls). Still, C-USA is an FBS conference. What about Chattanooga? Chattanooga belongs to the Southern Conference, which is not an FBS conference at all, but part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), a decidedly lower classification. That's fine, one may suppose, if Coleman's accomplishments were so stellar, so extraordinarily mind-blowing, that they simply could not be ignored. So let's look at the incredible heights to which B. J. Coleman took the Chattanooga Mocs in 2011, his senior year. . . .
Coleman played in seven games in 2011: one against an FBS opponent and all the remaining six against the significantly lower level of FCS competition. Chattanooga's record in those games was 2–5. They scored an average of 23.0 points. Coleman completed 60.9% of his passes for an average of 6.7 yards per attempt and 216.7 yards per game.
And what about Keenum? Keenum played in 14 games in 2011: 13 against top-division FBS foes and one from FCS. UH's record in those games was 13–1. They scored an average of 49.3 points. Keenum completed 71.0% of his passes for an average of 9.3 yards per attempt and 402.2 yards per game (keeping in mind that he had retired to the sideline long before the ends of several of UH's blowout wins). . . . Can one even imagine what Keenum might have done if he had faced FCS defenses every week?! One is free to extrapolate from Keenum's numbers versus Georgia State, the one FCS opponent he did face in 2011, when he went 29 for 34 (85.3%) with no interceptions, averaging 12.2 yards per attempt and racking up 415 yards passing before taking a seat on the sideline for the remainder of the game with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
But again, the experts knew better. They drafted the clearly better (????!!!) prospect, B. J. Coleman. Keenum didn't get drafted by Green Bay or anyone else.
Update, 2013: where are they now? Coleman was cut by the Packers and is presently a free agent. Keenum, following an excellent 2013 preseason with the Houston Texans, is on their active roster.
Subsequent update: By the middle of the 2013 season, Keenum was promoted by the Texans to the starting quarterback position. Coleman is still a free agent, not on any NFL roster.
Further update: The new head coach of the Texans for 2014 "cleaned house," releasing or trading away all three of the quarterbacks who had been on the roster in 2013. Keenum was signed by the St. Louis Rams and is currently on their active roster. Coleman is still a free agent, not on any NFL roster.
Another update: In December 2014, Keenum was traded by the Rams back to the Houston Texans. He was placed on the Texans' active roster and at this writing is under consideration to become their starting quarterback. Coleman is still a free agent, not on any NFL roster.
Update: Keenum was indeed promoted to a starting role for the Texans in 2014. He went 2–0 before being injured. Coleman was out of football at that point. . . . Before the 2015 NFL season, Keenum was traded back to the Rams. He was promoted midseason to a starting role. At this writing, Keenum is 3–1 as a starter in 2015. On December 17, 2015, Keenum compiled a near-perfect game QB rating of 158.0 (compare to the maximum possible mark in the NFL QB rating system, 158.3). . . . Coleman played a few games in the Arena Football League in 2015 but abruptly left. At this writing, he is under Arena League suspension.
Another update, from the "They just don't give up, do they?" department: In April 2016, Rick Gosselin, a sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, wrote (in a column that was reprinted in scores of other newspapers worldwide), "[T]he Rams clearly weren't enamored with Nick Foles and Case Keenum, who combined to throw as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns last season." The statistic Gosselin chose to cite, although literally true, is outrageously misleading: Foles threw 10 interceptions, and Keenum (who played in six games [five as the starter]) threw one interception! Using Gosselin's absurd brand of "logic," I ought to be campaigning to have a giant statue of myself erected at the Baseball Hall of Fame, because Hank Aaron and I combined for 755 major league home runs, and Cy Young and I combined for 511 major league pitching wins!
Yet another update: Case Keenum was the Los Angeles Rams' opening day starting quarterback in 2016. B. J. Coleman was released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL during their 2016 season and is again a free agent, not on any NFL, CFL, Arena League, or other professional roster.
Update, 2017: OK, I've probably picked on B. J. Coleman enough. There were in fact other college quarterbacks chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft who found little or no success at the professional level. Ryan Lindley was picked in the sixth round (ahead of Coleman): he now plays in the CFL after a three-year career in the NFL in which he played in only ten games, including a mere six starts, completing just 51.1% of his passes and accumulating a 52.4 rating. Seventh-round pick Chandler Harnish fared even worse: relegated to NFL practice squads for three seasons, he never played a down during any season; he was ultimately cut and has retired from football. I had focused on the B. J. Coleman story because, unlike Lindley and Harnish, he was unsuccessful even in college (and at a lower-division [FCS] college at that), and NFL "experts" still chose to draft him and not Case Keenum, whose exploits at the FBS level were historic and legendary. . . .
So here's a progress report: midway through the 2017 season, Keenum is having an excellent year in the NFL. Thrust into the starting role for the Minnesota Vikings during the season, after the presumptive starter was unable to perform (which has also been his lot in every previous season but one), he has led the Vikings to one of the best records in the NFL and, at this writing, a two-game lead in their division. In seven games in 2017, Keenum has completed 63.9% of his passes, thrown only three interceptions, and accumulated an excellent 88.8 rating, ranking him among the league leaders. [Update: at the end of the regular season, his completion percentage was 67.6%, and his QB rating had jumped to a stellar 98.3.] And yet. . . . .
I go to Google News each week to read what the experts have to say about Keenum. I'll just give a generic paraphrase of what I keep reading, over and over, week after week:
"Miraculously, the Minnesota Vikings just keep winning, despite having perennial journeyman and career backup quarterback Case Keenum (who?!) filling in under center. When Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are ready to return, the Vikes will have a real dilemma as to which of those two will be their quarterback of the future. (Keenum, despite numbers which somehow place him among the league leaders in most offensive categories, is just not an NFL starting quarterback.)"
Right. And as Flip Wilson's "Geraldine" famously said: "Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lyin' eyes?"
Keenum has heard of playing under center, which he did from his childhood through high school. He was taught the game by his father, a successful college head coach and offensive coordinator.
Drew Brees is 6'0". Doug Flutie is 5'10". They did all right in the pros. . . . Keenum is 6'1".
Many pundits have an obsession with pointing out parallels between Keenum and former University of Hawaiʻi quarterback Timmy Chang, presumably stemming from the fact that both played in mid-major programs and threw for a lot of yards (Chang had held the NCAA Div. I-A/FBS record for career passing yardage until Keenum shattered it). Since Chang did not succeed in the NFL, Keenum is likewise doomed to fail, say these experts. In reality, however, Keenum's college career numbers were far superior to Chang's. Chang attempted 207 more passes than Keenum but completed 158 fewer, for 2,145 fewer yards, with 38 fewer touchdowns and 34 more interceptions. Keenum's career passer rating of 160.6 ranks him 8th among all Div. I-A/FBS quarterbacks with 700 or more attempts who played between 2000 and 2011; Chang's 125.1 rating puts him in. . . 187th. [Update, 2013. . . The source I consulted in 2012 for the preceding statistics has significantly expanded its timeframe and now indicates the following: Keenum's career passer rating of 160.6 ranks him 11th among all Div. I-A/FBS quarterbacks with 700 or more attempts who played between 1977 and 2012; Chang's 125.1 rating is far below the minimum required to appear on the list, which includes only the top 250 quarterbacks!] It's also worth mentioning that Keenum ran for 23 touchdowns in the process of amassing 897 career rushing yards. Chang scored six rushing touchdowns and finished with a somewhat less impressive number of career rushing yards: –162. (Yes, that's a negative sign.)
"Where are all the previous quarterbacks from UH who tried to make it in the pros?" some ask. Why should that matter? Every individual is unique. For now, we can only judge Keenum on his accomplishments to this point which can fairly be described as dominating the best defenses the college game could offer and provide him a fair opportunity to prove himself in the pros. But for the record, in case it matters, Kevin Kolb, Keenum's immediate predecessor as the long-term starting quarterback for UH, became a starting quarterback in the NFL. He passed for over 300 yards in each of his first two NFL starts, a feat previously accomplished by. . . nobody.
Keenum's performance at the 2012 NFL Draft Combine was unimpressive, which made big news and generated a huge and gleeful chorus of I-told-you-sos from the media experts. His subsequent performance at the Pro Day held in Houston for numerous NFL scouts (but with little or no national media presence) was outstanding. He "admitted" afterward that at the Combine he had sustained a minor hamstring injury while running the non-passing drills and was thus not able to generate much strength in the passing drill that followed. He had continued to participate only because he had already made the trip. He chose not to say anything at the time and have it sound like an excuse, and he knew he'd have a chance to redeem himself at Pro Day. Which he did but it seems everybody kept bringing up the Combine results anyway. I guess it goes to show that a doubter will always look for results that reinforce his doubt.
NFL scouts over the years have had a particularly poor track record predicting the future NFL success of quarterbacks (as compared to other positions) coming out of college. (And in 2017, I finally found somebody who agrees with me.) The Houston Texans signed Case Keenum to an undrafted-free-agent contract. After working extensively with Keenum in the Texans' summer 2012 OTAs (training camp), head coach Gary Kubiak went on record as being very impressed with Keenum's arm strength and thrilled with his leadership, his football intelligence, and his overall skills.
Going into college, Keenum was essentially dismissed as not worth a look by every coach but one in the country. He turned out to be one of the best ever. There are no guarantees in the NFL, but I think Case Keenum will be just fine.
Case Keenum: NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November 2017. VINDICATION.
Case Keenum, as the starting quarterback for nearly the entire 2017 season, leads the Minnesota Vikings to a 133 recordtied for the best in the NFLand an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. RECOGNITION.
For further reading: It happens in basketball, too!