Conference USA's first-ever BCS invitation may have to wait for another year. The Houston Cougars, the sixth-ranked team in the country entering Saturday's contest, was upset by No. 24 Southern Miss, ending what had been a dream season for Kevin Sumlin and the Cougars, 49-28.
In a rematch of the 2006 Conference USA Championship Game - in which Houston won 34-20 - the Golden Eagles limited the Cougars' potent offense from the start of the game. Entering Saturday, the Cougars had played 48 quarters this season and had been held scoreless in just four of them. Houston was held scoreless in the first and last quarters against Southern Miss and never got back on track as they did in other games in which they were held scoreless in the first quarter - they scored 35 against Louisiana Tech, 49 against UTEP and 73 against Tulane...but just 21 on Saturday.
Everything went wrong for Houston in a loss that marked the second time an undefeated non-AQ team lost its conference championship game, joining Ball State's loss to Buffalo in 2008. The Cougars entered averaging 52.7 points per game; they finished with 28. They entered allowing 20.9 points per game and allowed 49 points, their most since allowing 59 to Southern Miss in their second-to-last game last season. Overall, Southern Miss held Houston to season lows in points, total offense and plays of 20+ yards in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Houston Cougars, 2011 Season
Case Keenum entered having thrown 43 touchdowns to just three interceptions; he threw two interceptions on Saturday, including his first in the red zone since Sept, 18, 2010. It was his only game this season where he didn't throw more touchdowns than interceptions. Perhaps more pertinent, he averaged just 5.6 yards per attempt on Saturday, compared to 10.1 on the season.
Ronnie Thornton's interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter made it eight total interceptions returned for a touchdown this season for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles now hold the FBS record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season. They entered the game tied at seven with UL Lafayette this year and the previous record holder, Tennessee which set the mark in 1971. Southern Miss' win was also its first at Robertson Stadium since 2003. They were 0-3 there since.
• Cincinnati took care of business on Saturday against Connecticut, improving to 5-2 in the Big East. However, West Virginia has likely clinched the Big East's automatic BCS bid. The selection will come down to a three-way tie between West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Louisville. As of this week, West Virginia was the only team ranked in the Top 25 of the BCS Standings.