No. 21 Houston handling expectations

Published 1:19 am Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Associated Press

HOUSTON — The last time the Houston Cougars were 6-0 was back in 1990, the heyday of David Klingler and the run-and-shoot offense.

The current Cougars compare to that bunch in more ways than one, crashing into the Top 25 behind a seemingly unstoppable offense. And while Houston takes aim at an unbeaten season, senior quarterback Case Keenum is closing in on records not even Klingler or 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware could reach.

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The 21st-ranked Cougars (6-0, 2-0 Conference USA) face Marshall (3-4, 2-1) on Saturday. Houston is not only generating buzz on the field, it’s also grabbing headlines as a potential newcomer to the Big East, which would offer an automatic bid into the Bowl Championship Series.

Athletics director Mack Rhoades and coach Kevin Sumlin wouldn’t comment Tuesday on media reports that the conference has invited the school to join. Sumlin did say that his team isn’t distracted by realignment talk, because the school’s future affiliation has no bearing on this season.

“Our guys, this team, is only around one time,” Sumlin said. “For us to spend time or energy speculating or really just fantasizing about what could possibly be, is really a waste of time, and really takes away from what we’re trying to do with this team.”

Sumlin has talked to his team about handling the increased scrutiny that comes with both the national ranking and the realignment chatter.

“If all I had to worry about was what was said in this room, we’d probably never lose a game and probably wouldn’t have any problems,” Sumlin said in the team’s auditorium. “I’m not so naove not to think that everybody else is trying to tell them how good they are, and where we are right now.

“What I talk about in here, there are some things just like in a family,” Sumlin said. “There are things that you talk to your family about that you probably don’t want other people knowing. We’ve had some discussions in here, and because of that, we can be frank with each other.”

Houston is the lowest ranked of the 10 remaining undefeated teams, mostly because its first six opponents have a total record of 13-24.

And with no ranked opponents ahead, the Cougars have a lower ceiling than the 1990 squad, which won its first eight games and ascended to the No. 3 ranking. That team finished 10-1 and ranked 10th nationally, and Klingler was third in the Heisman voting.

The current Cougars have an average victory margin of 24.3, but Keenum says that no one in the locker room has mentioned putting up more gaudy scores to impress poll voters.

“I don’t know about style points,” Keenum said. “From day one, when we all got here, we knew that the only people that believed in us, that really mattered, were going to be sitting in that locker room in there.

“Opinions change weekly, about us, about different teams,” he said. “We can’t pay too much attention, or start believing what other people say about us. Because either way, if it’s good or bad, that’s not where you want to be.”

In 2009, the Cougars got as high as No. 12, then lost their final two games for a 10-4 record. This season is starting to look a lot like that one, with Keenum again on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards and the Cougars putting up huge numbers.

Houston leads the nation in total yards (604 per game), passing yards (435.5 per game) and scoring (47 points per game), the three categories that the Cougars led at the end of 2009.

The big difference this year is that Keenum, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after tearing a ligament in his right knee early last season, is within sight of significant NCAA career records.

He needs only 130 yards on Saturday to become the all-time leader in total offense, passing Hawaii’s Tim Chang. He’s 1,178 passing yards from leapfrogging Chang (17,072) on that list, and he needs 11 touchdown passes to eclipse the record (134) set by Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell.

As with the ranking and the Big East talk, Keenum is looking no further than the next game. He knows the records and the recognition will come, as long as the Cougars continue to win.

“I want to make sure that I don’t spend any time dwelling on that stuff right now, because I’m going to have the rest of my life to look back,” Keenum said. “I can either be saying, ‘I could’ve done that,’ or ‘Yeah, it was a pretty cool that I did that.’ I’d rather take right now, and focus on what’s most important.”