Analyzing the unbeaten teams: Houston

Thomas Campbell/US Presswire

Case Keenum and Houston have been celebrating all season, but can the Cougars keep their dreams of an unbeaten season alive?

After 11 weeks of football, there are three unbeaten teams remaining in the Football Bowl Subdivision. What makes these teams go? Do they have a weakness that will cost them a chance at an undefeated season? And what is each team’s toughest game remaining on the schedule? ESPN’s Statistics & Information Group will be answering these questions for each of the three teams in a series, starting with the Houston Cougars.

Houston Cougars: 10-0 (6-0 CUSA)

What they do well

FBS Passing Efficiency Leaders
Entering Week 12

Case Keenum and the Cougars throw the ball as well as any team in the country. Keenum leads all FBS quarterbacks in pass yards per game (395.1) and pass touchdowns (37) this season. Two weeks ago, he passed Hawaii’s Timmy Chang for the most career passing yards in NCAA history (17,537).

While they throw the ball frequently, the Cougars are hardly “compilers.” Keenum ranks second in the nation with an average of 10.5 yards per attempt and he leads all quarterbacks in completions of both 20 yards or more (61) and 50 yards or more (11). As a team, Houston is on pace to complete more 20+ and 50+ yard passes in a single season than any school in the past eight seasons.

Area of concern

Houston allows over 184 rushing yards per game, 87th among 120 FBS schools this season. With games remaining against Tulsa (209.4 rush yards per game) and potentially Southern Miss (198.8 rush yards per game) in the Conference USA championship game, the Cougars could face two offenses currently ranked among the top 30 teams in the country in rush yards per game.

If there is a breaking point for Houston, it has been the 200-yard mark. Over the past three seasons, the Cougars are 9-7 when allowing more than 200 yards on the ground and 16-4 when allowing 200 or fewer. Tulsa and Southern Miss have combined to eclipse 200 yards on 24 occasions during that span, including each team’s win over Houston last season.

Biggest hurdle remaining

Houston still has to play at Tulsa, who defeated the Cougars 28-25 last season in Houston. Entering this weekend, Tulsa is 6-0 in conference play and tied with Houston atop West Division of C-USA. The two teams are scheduled to meet the day after Thanksgiving in a matchup that will decide the division’s representative in the C-USA championship game in addition to impacting Houston’s pursuit of the league’s first BCS bowl bid.

Along with its ground attack, Tulsa’s ability to create turnovers in the passing game could work in its favor. Tulsa has picked off a league-high 14 passes this season (T-ninth in FBS), including at least one pass in seven of its ten games. In five of those games, the Golden Hurricane has intercepted at least two passes.

If Tulsa can reel in a Keenum pass or two on November 25, its chances to win will greatly improve. Since Keenum began his career in 2007, Houston is 23-3 in games when he has not thrown an interception, 15-12 when he has a thrown at least one pick, and 4-7 when he’s thrown two or more.