After reaching the Conference USA title game last season, the Houston Cougars enter the 2010-2011 college football betting campaign as the conference favorite. With an explosive offensive attack, Houston could become an emerging sleeper in the college rankings as the year progresses.
Here's a look at five reasons why Houston could become a BCS buster:
1. Case Keenum
As Case Keenum enters his senior campaign, Keenum is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. In 2009, he led the nation in touchdown passes (44) while throwing for an NCAA-best 5,671 yards. Keenum passed for more than 500 yards on four different occasions last season. He also threw for more than 5,000 yards with 44 TD strikes as a sophomore in 2008. Keenum has completed 69% of his career pass attempts for the Cougars. With Keenum directing the Houston offense, the club led the country in total, scoring and passing offense last season.
2. Kevin Sumlin
The third-year head coach of the Cougars is one of the rising stars on the college sidelines. He has posted an 18-9 record in his two seasons at Houston. Sumlin landed with the Cougars after serving as the offensive coordinator of the Oklahoma Sooners in 2006-07. While he may eventually wind up at a major BCS program, Sumlin's coaching could take Houston a long way in 2010.
3. James Cleveland
Cleveland played a major role in the success of Houston's offense last season as the club's top wide receiver. The Iowa Hawkeyes transfer ranked in the top 8 in the country in catches and receiving yards per game last season. He hauled in 14 of Keenum's touchdown strikes in 2009. Cleveland grabbed 19 receptions for 241 yards in last year's C-USA title game. The Keenum-Cleveland tandem should be able to develop even more chemistry in 2010.
4. A new defense
If the Cougars are going to become a BCS sleeper in 2010-2011, the defense will need to step up. In 2009, Houston ranked in the bottom 10 in the country in total and rushing defense. Sumlin is hoping that a new scheme will boost the unit this season. New coordinator Brian Stewart has installed a 3-4 set for the defense. The defense does have some nice speed to work with. Junior linebacker Marcus McGraw lead the conference in tackles last season.
5. A favorable schedule
The Cougars certainly have a live shot at running the table this season. None of Houston's 12 opponents are ranked in the top 25 entering the season. The Cougars will have to face three BCS conference squads in 2010. Houston will take on UCLA, Mississippi State and Texas Tech in non-conference action. The Bruins defense could provide some trouble for Keenum at the Rose Bowl on September 18th. The regular season finale at Texas Tech on November 27th could be the most difficult matchup for Houston. The Red Raiders will be looking for some revenge after a 29-28 defeat at Houston last season. In conference play, the Cougars toughest game will likely be at Southern Mississippi late in the season.