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COLLEGE FOOTBALL SPOTLIGHT

Case Keenum picks a bad time to slip

Record-setting quarterback has a subpar performance that costs Houston an appearance in a BCS bowl game and possibly damages his chances at winning the Heisman Trophy.

December 03, 2011|By Mike Hiserman
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum is sacked by Southern Mississippi's Cordarro Law.
Houston quarterback Case Keenum is sacked by Southern Mississippi's… (Bob Levey / Getty Images )

In a way, Case Keenum's final home game at Houston ended appropriately. His final pass went for — what else? — a touchdown.

The rest of the equation just didn't add up, not for a quarterback who has rewritten major-college football's record book and whose team was one victory away from its first Bowl Championship Series bowl appearance.

That scoring pass, of 13 yards to Justin Johnson, came with three seconds left in Houston's 49-28 loss to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA championship game.

The loss knocked Houston (12-1) out of a lucrative BCS game and may also have changed the immediate futures of Keenum and his head coach.

Keenum passed for 373 yards, becoming the first college player to throw for at least 5,000 yards in a season three times. But it took 67 passes to do it and, among several that were poorly thrown, two were intercepted.

The subpar performance may have grounded Keenum from a flight to New York next week for the Heisman Trophy presentation. The sixth-year senior was considered a possible finalist.

"I'm not going to accept this," Keenum said. "Whatever bowl game that is, we are going to prepare and go out winners."

Kevin Sumlin's reputation may have taken a little bit of a hit, too. The coach had been mentioned as a leading candidate for openings at Texas A&M, UCLA and Arizona State.

Stating their case

Keenum, who owns NCAA career passing marks with 1,501 completions, 18,865 yards and 152 touchdowns, wasn't the only record-setting quarterback in the Conference USA title game.

Southern Mississippi senior Austin Davis passed for 279 yards, giving him 3,331 this season to break his school record for single-season passing. He set the old mark of 3,128 yards as a freshman.

The story of the day, though, was the Golden Eagles defense, which held Houston to a season low in points at a stadium where it had averaged 52.7 points and 613 yards.

"Everybody thought Houston was just going to walk away with this thing," Coach Larry Fedora said. "So our guys obviously took objection to that. They had something to prove."

Linebacker Ronnie Thornton provided the capper, picking off a Keenum pass and running 26 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes 41 seconds left. It was the eighth Southern Mississippi interception return for a touchdown this season, an NCAA record.

Not-so-fond farewell

Howard Schnellenberger at least had one highlight in his farewell to coaching. It wasn't the final score.

Louisiana Monroe defeated Schnellenberger's Florida Atlantic team, 26-0, in the 77-year-old coach's final game after 53 years on college and professional football sidelines.

But in the first half, Schnellenberger made what might have been the best play of the day by his team. He easily pulled in an errant pass thrown by Louisiana Monroe's Kolton Browning toward the Florida Atlantic sideline, earning a roar from the crowd.

Schnellenberger recruited Joe Namath to Alabama, were he was the offensive coordinator for three of Bear Bryant's national championship teams. He also ran the offense for the Miami Dolphins in their perfect 1972 NFL season, and he was head coach at Miami in 1983 when the Hurricanes won the first of their five national championships.

Schnellenberger will stay at Florida Atlantic as a fundraiser. Carl Pelini, Nebraska's defensive coordinator, is expected to be introduced next week as Florida Atlantic's coach.

Picked off

Texas freshman Case McCoy established a school record by throwing 124 passes — the first of his college career — without an interception.

Baylor ended that streak in a huge way during its 48-24 win over the Longhorns.

McCoy's 18th pass of the game against the Bears was intercepted by K.J. Morton, who returned it 28 yards to the Texas two to set up the touchdown that gave Baylor the lead for good just before halftime.

In the second half, McCoy had three of his passes picked. He also lost a first-half fumble, meaning he accounted for all five Texas turnovers.

Quick hits

Louisiana State's 13-0 season includes eight wins over teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 at the time of the game. … Chris Petersen became the winningest football coach in Boise State history when the Broncos beat New Mexico, 45-0. Petersen has a record of 72-6 at the school. Tony Knapp was 71-19-1 at Boise State from 1968 to 1975. … Tyler Shoemaker broke Austin Pettis' Boise State record for receiving touchdowns in a season with his 15th, covering 16 yards in the first quarter. … Virginia Tech and Clemson playing for the Atlantic Coast Conference title this season could be the start of a trend. The Hokies and Tigers are among the youngest teams in major-college football. Clemson and Indiana led the nation this season, playing 29 freshmen. Virginia Tech's 25 was tied for sixth.

mike.hiserman@latimes.com

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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