Friday, January 14, 2011

Keenum granted sixth year

Since I honestly did not expect this to happen, I am very pleasantly surprised right now:
The NCAA has granted a sixth year of eligibility to Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who missed the final nine games of the 2010 season with a torn knee ligament.

The NCAA's decision was first reported by KRIV-TV. The school announced it on Friday.

Keenum was nearing several NCAA career records when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while attempting a tackle in a 31-13 loss at UCLA on Sept. 18. That came a week after a mild concussion in a win over UTEP.

Coming off a disappointing season, this was really (outside of news regarding construction of a new stadium or realignment into a BCS automatically-qualifying conference) the best news a suffering Houston fan could want to hear. It completely changes the dynamic of the coming season; what once looked like something of a rebuilding year now looks like a it could be a great one, i.e. it now makes 2011 look like the year 2010 should have been for Cougar football. As the Chronicle's Richard Justice notes, "[Keenum's] return doesn't accomplish everything UH would like to accomplish this year, but it was a terrific start. Do you believe in omens?"

There were three main reasons why Houston's 5-7 2010 campaign ended in such a disappointing fashion. The first was the departure of offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson to Oklahoma State (he is now on his way to West Virginia). His replacements, Jason Phillips and Kliff Klingsbury, simply were not of the same caliber when it came to playcalling capabilities. The second was the lack of a significantly improved defense over the previous season (going from #111 in the nation in total defense in 2009 to #103 in total defense is definitely not significant improvement).

But the biggest reason for last fall's collapse was the loss of Case Keenum himself, because he could largely cover for both of those aforementioned shortcomings. He knew the offense well enough to essentially be his own offensive coordinator, thereby taking pressure off of Phillips and Klingsbury as they grew into their roles. He could also lead the offense to quick and frequent scores, thereby matching the opposing team score-for-score in situations where the struggling UH defense simply couldn't do their part. Case, for all practical purposes, was the team. As he went, so did the team's leader and its greatest weapon.

My hope for Keenum is three-fold: first, that his recovery continues and that he regains his old form in time for the fall season (and it goes without saying that he also avoid injury this fall.) My second hope is that head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff do something - anything - over the coming months to give Keenum and his offense the defensive help that they so desperately need. 96th in the nation in scoring defense, 114th in rushing offense and 117th in third-down conversion defense just aren't going to cut it.

My third hope - and I mean this sincerely, without cynicism - is that the University of Houston Althetics Department refrain from launching a "Keenum for Heisman" campaign like they did last fall. First of all, it's futile: Heisman voters simply aren't going to give the award to a player from a non-AQ conference, especially when the media is already hyping up players from AQ conferences, like Stanford's Andrew Luck, as 2011 frontrunners. Second, such as campaign puts unnecessary pressure and distraction on Keenum. That's not fair to him or the rest of the team. Just let him go out there and perform, without the hype.

The season begins on September 3, 2011 against the same UCLA team that ended Keenum's aspirations last fall. That game cannot come soon enough.

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