(24) Southern Mississippi (10-2) at (7) Houston (12-0)
Saturday, December 3rd, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Houston Cougars will put their unblemished record on the line this weekend as they take on the 24th-ranked Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in the Conference USA Championship Game from Robertson Stadium.
Southern Miss finished its regular season 10-2 with a win over Memphis to clinch the East Division by one game over Marshall. The Golden Eagles suffered a hiccup the week before as they were upset by UAB. Southern Miss appeared to be back in true form last week which could have the Cougars a little worried.
Houston is predicted to be playing for a BCS berth, which would be the first in school history. The Cougars are 12-0 as they have run the table so far this season. Last week against Tulsa, which entered the contest undefeated in conference play, Houston dominated, as it outscored the Golden Hurricane 48-16 to clinch the West Division title.
Southern Miss leads the all-time series against Houston 8-5. The games have been very close and exciting to this point. Houston's coach Kevin Sumlin discussed his anticipation for the continuation of the series in his weekly press conference
"They have been crazy. The last time they were here we scored to go ahead by one and then they blocked an extra point and ran it back. It was crazy. Last year we went back and forth. There have been some crazy things that have happened in this game. They are extremely athletic and well coached. They are not going to come in here intimidated. I think it is going to be a great game."
This will be the first time the Conference USA Championship game features two ranked, 10-win teams.
Southern Miss has a very serviceable offense averages 34.1 points per game. The offense is led by Austin Davis. The senior quarterback has thrown for 3,052 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 11 straight games. The Golden Eagles have the top rushing attack in the conference as well with an average of 207.8 yards per game on the ground.
Defensively, Southern Miss will have its hands full with the best offense in the country. The Golden Eagles are one of the top teams in the nation in terms of pass efficiency and have the 26th best ranked defense in the country. Coach Larry Fedora discussed his thoughts on stopping Houston's top offense.
"We have to go out there and play hard. That's the key. There's no secret to what they do. It's not like they are doing something different week in and week out. They do what they do. They are going to run the routes the way they run them. They are going to go up tempo. They are going to run the ball when you give them numbers, and they will try to take advantage of you. They've got guys with some speed and you have to be great tacklers. You can't give them big plays when you should be making a tackle."
Houston has the top ranked offense, passing offense, and scoring average in the country. The Cougars are scoring an eye-popping 52.7 points per game, while gaining an average of 613.3 yards per game. Case Keenum has established himself as a household name with his fantasy-like statistics. Keenum threw for 534 yards and nine touchdown passes in one game this year when the Cougars took on Rice. The senior signal caller has yet to have a disappointing performance as he has thrown for 4,726 yards, 43 touchdowns, and just three interceptions.
Patrick Edwards has been the main recipient of Keenum's deliveries this year. Edwards has 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns on 74 catches this season. Houston's rushing offense is gaining 163.58 yards per game this season as well. Charles Sims and Michael Haynes split the carries and both have been effective when on the field.
Houston has improved its defense this season as well. The Cougars have not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points in their last four outings. It has been done before, as UTEP scored 42 as the Miners came up just short of an upset earlier in the year.
Southern Miss has a lot to overcome in this one. There is no way to stop Keenum, but the Golden Eagles have the firepower on offense to match him if their defense can make a big play or two. If Houston avoids turnovers and nerves though, it should be heading to a BCS Bowl game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 45, Southern Mississippi 34
12/02 20:16:45 ET