|Not many defenders have been able to slow down Case Keenum from a record-setting season. (US Presswire)|
HOUSTON -- Early in the second quarter, Houston quarterback Case Keenum broke Graham Harrell's NCAA record for career completions. If you're trying to keep track: that's five NCAA career records Keenum has broken.
Later in Houston's 37-7 victory against SMU he also tied Timmy Chang's NCAA record with his 36th 300-yard passing day and went over 4,000 career yards to share another record with Chang.
Keenum already has so many NCAA records that even the banner that stretches 25 yards across the top of Robertson Stadium recognizing Keenum's NCAA records only has room to list three of them.
Yet in the midst of Keenum's record-setting day Saturday, he also tied another NCAA mark: most Senior Days.
Last year in the third game of his senior season, Keenum suffered a torn ACL. He participated in last year's Senior Day activities, but needed crutches to get across the field.
"Last year," Keenum said, "Senior Day was pretty crappy."
On Saturday, Keenum, who was granted a rare sixth-year in the offseason, participated in his second and final Senior Day.
This time on Senior Day he threw plenty (318 yards and one TD) and ran plenty (a 16-yard touchdown run). After the game, he shook hands with SMU linebacker Cameron Rogers, who also went to the same high school (Abilene Wylie) as Keenum.
"I told him he had a heck of a game and he's had a heck of a season," Rogers said. "They have something on this year."
Do they ever.
The Cougars are averaging 618 yards per game, second-best in NCAA history, behind the 1989 Houston team (625 yards per game). They also are averaging 53.1 points, third-best in NCAA history, behind Army (56 points per game in 1944) and Houston (53.5 points in 1989).
After Keenum spoke with Rogers and a few other SMU players, he capped the day not by exiting on crutches like last year but by running around the field, high-fiving as many of the record Robertson Stadium crowd of 32,207 hanging over the rails as he could.
"I couldn't have asked for a better Senior Day," Keenum said. "It was awesome. All the people stick around afterward that it's gotten to the point that I recognize some of them."
One of the regulars is John Anthony, a 1984 Houston graduate. He was the last fan to high-five Keenum before Keenum headed up the ramp to the locker room for the final time.
"He's been great," Anthony said. "He's been dedicated to the program. He's been very important to helping build the Houston program."
After Houston, ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press and BCS polls, improved to 11-0, Anthony said he was now making his reservations for the Sugar Bowl. The Cougars still need to win out (at Tulsa Friday and the Conference USA title Dec. 3) to earn a BCS berth, but Anthony is confident.
Even though Houston is one of only two unbeatens, along with No. 1 LSU, coach Kevin Sumlin isn't concerned the Cougars aren't ranked higher.
"As a non-AQ [conference team] we can't get caught up in where we should be, what [could] happen," Sumlin said. "What we do have is the mindset that if we win, we will not be ignored. Seven weeks ago we weren't even in the rankings, so it's hard for us to complain right now. We recognize the process and it all gets back to us. If we win, people will recognize our efforts."
Keenum said he hoped Houston made a pretty good case Saturday.
"That's the only thing we can do," Keenum said. "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."
With No. 7 Clemson losing Saturday, the Cougars should move into the top 10 but may not go higher than No. 10. Sumlin is okay with that.
"People haven't seen us a bunch," Sumlin said.
If they missed Saturday's game what they would have witnessed was a team that Sumlin called "very, very emotional" and "jittery."
"There were a lot of tears in people's eyes," Sumlin said.
Ten years ago, Houston fans also cried a lot -- but for a different reason. The Cougars finished 0-11 in 2001. Ten years later, they're 11-0.
"If I had to write a script for today, I don't know if it would have been any different," Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said. "This was a really good day for the University of Houston. It was a fun day."
"Fun" was one F-word used to describe the day -- although ESPN's Lee Corso used another F-word to conclude the network's first College GameDay appearance in Houston.
With one, maybe two games remaining, has Keenum made a good enough case to be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?
I believe so. He has a ridiculous touchdown (38) to interception (3) ratio. Entering Saturday's game with SMU, he had thrown 23 TDs in his last five games. That number was greater or equal to 101 of the remaining 119 FBS schools.
But Keenum's success is more than just numbers. It's impossible to put in perspective what Keenum has meant to the program. Just look around at Saturday's capacity crowd and imagine the new stadium that will be built in the coming years. Fund-raising is a lot easier when you're winning and winning big.
Heck, the city of Houston even proclaimed Saturday "University of Houston Day." Think they'll do that when the Astros move to the American League?
Houston has enjoyed this success in large part because of Keenum's return from last year's devastating knee injury and also his resolve to not only to return, but return better than before.
"There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him mentally to handle things," Sumlin said. "It's not just the pressure of rehab, it's the pressure to be as good as you were [before the injury].
"He's a strong guy, physically and mentally. He took a lot of shots tonight that I didn't want him to take. That's where he is as a competitor. He's going to do whatever it takes. He's a complete football player."
One that deserves a trip to New York.