In the wake of one of the biggest and ugliest scandals in college sports history, Penn State made it one game away from the inaugural Big Ten Championship game.
The Houston Cougars and their record-breaking quarterback came one game away from a BCS Bowl. Both teams fell short and lost their coach for drastically different reasons.
They meet up for the in time story in a matchup of tough defense versus astounding offense.
Houston is having a record year, winning 12 games for the first time in school history and was one win away from an undefeated season heading into the Conference USA Championship game. Southern Miss had different plans, defeating the Cougars 49–28. Star QB Case Keenum who has put up unbelievable numbers this year had one of the worst games of his career.
After the game, head coach Kevin Sumlin, who was 35–17 in four seasons at UH, left to take the highly coveted Texas A&M job. Special teams coordinator, inside-receivers and tight ends coach Tony Levine will take over the coaching duties for the bowl game, but just as they have all year, the Cougars will rely on Keenum for leadership and play on the field. Keenum, who will be making the final start of his historic career, led Houston’s high octane offense ranked number one in the nation in total offense (599.0 ypg), passing (443.8 ypg) and scoring (50.8 ppg). Individually, Keenum led all QBs with 5099 yards, 45 TDs, and 392.2 yards per game. He attempted 534 passes and threw only five interceptions; two of the picks came in the Southern Miss game. At the end of the regular season, Keenum owns the all-time FBS records for total offense (19,572 yards), passing yards (18,685) and passing TDs (152).
Keenum has had plenty of weapons at his disposal; WRs Patrick Edwards (1,524 yards, 18 TDs), Justin Johnson (1,081 yards, 11 TDs) and Tyron Carrier (914 yards, 5 TDs), and RBs Charles Sims (782 yards, 9 TDs) and Michael Hayes (707 yards, 11 TDs) have all given Keenum a variety of playmakers to utilize in any given game. The Cougars’ defense allowed an average of 23.1 points per game (44th in the FBS) and 386 yards of total offense (65th).
Iconic coach Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of a sex scandal in which criminal charges of child abuse were filed against JoePa’s longtime former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Current defensive coordinator Tom Bradley took over as interim coach, posting a 1–2 record. In the three game span the Nittany Lions lost at home to Nebraska 17–14, beat Ohio State in Columbus 20–14, and were blown out 45-7 at Wisconsin in the regular season finale.
This season, Penn State’s season-high was 41 points against FCS opponent Indiana State in the opener and went over 30 points twice, against Eastern Michigan and at Northwestern. The Nittany Lions will be without starting QB Matt McGloin who has a head injury he sustained in a locker room fight with WR Curtis Drake on December 17th. In his place will be sophomore Rob Bolden, who has attempted 109 passes completing 46 for 548 yards, one touchdown and four INTs. Sophomore star RB Silas Redd (1,188 yards, 7 TDs) will have to dominate a Cougars run defense that has allowed 171.8 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns and is ranked 77th nationally.
The defense is anchored by DT Devon Still, who was a finalist for the Bednarik Award, the Outland Trophy, and the Nagurski Trophy, but walked away from the regular season being named a first-team Walter Camp All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Still recorded 4.5 sacks (tied for 12th in the conference) and 17 TFL (tied for fifth in the Big Ten). Penn State will have to rely heavily on their defense that is fifth in the nation against the pass, holding opponents to 162.2 yards and nine touchdowns in the air.
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Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc