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September 1, 2011

Week 1: C-USA, MAC, SBC, WAC and Indy

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-12 | SEC

Houston quarterback Case Keenum went into the 2010 season expecting to be a legitimate Heisman contender.

He had had a monster 2009 season, throwing for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns, and there was talk he could become the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 6,000 yards.

THE 12 BEST GAMES
THURSDAY
North Texas at Florida International, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY
Miami (Ohio) at Missouri, noon
USF at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.
UCLA at Houston, 3:30 p.m.
Western Michigan at Michigan, 3:30 p.m.
BYU at Ole Miss, 4:45 p.m.
Army at Northern Illinois, 7 p.m.
Fresno State at California, 7 p.m.
Louisiana Tech at Southern Miss, 10 p.m.
Colorado at Hawaii, 10:15 p.m.
SUNDAY
Marshall at West Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
SMU at Texas A&M, 7:30 p.m.
But he had modest outings in the first two games of the season, throwing for a total of 543 yards and two scores, then was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first half of Game 3.

The injury occurred against UCLA - and wouldn't you know it: UCLA is Houston's season-opening opponent Saturday.

"I've thought about this for a long time and I've lost a lot of sleep over it," Keenum told reporters this week about playing again. "It's been one thought that has probably consumed my mind for the last year now, so it's going to mean a lot to me. I'm really excited to get back out there."

Keenum's return is expected to help Houston get back on the plus side of the ledger. The Cougars were 5-7 last season, in part because they used three starting quarterbacks. Keenum's backup, Cotton Turner, also was lost for the season in the UCLA game, to a broken collarbone. True freshman Terrence Broadway started Game 4, then gave way to David Piland, another true freshman. Piland started the final eight games, and Broadway has transferred.

This is the only game this season for Houston against a Big Six opponent, and the rest of the non-conference schedule is eminently navigable - North Texas, Louisiana Tech and FCS member Georgia State. Indeed, a strong case can be made that if Houston gets past UCLA, it will be 10-0 going into the final two games - at home against SMU and at Tulsa.

If Houston does start 10-0, you can bet that Keenum's play will be the major reason - and that would mean Keenum is a legitimate Heisman contender a year later than expected.

He has a legitimate chance to set NCAA career marks in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes; as it is, he is one of just two quarterbacks in NCAA history (along with Texas Tech's Graham Harrell) to have two seasons with 5,000 passing yards.

Best matchup: SMU wide receivers vs. Texas A&M secondary. SMU's Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson could be the most productive receiving duo in the nation this season; they combined for 165 receptions last season - and that was when the now-graduated Aldrick Robinson was the Mustangs' go-to receiver. A&M's secondary made strides last season, the first with Tim DeRuyter as coordinator. But A&M also had a good pass rush last season, and the leading sack man (Von Miller) is gone. If SMU QB Kyle Padron gets time to throw Sunday, his receivers are going to have a big day against A&M's secondary. Look for Padron to try to stay away from Aggies CB Coryell Judie, an All-America candidate.

Players on the spot: Northern Illinois MLB Pat Schiller. NIU has just two full-time starters back on defense from last season's 11-win team, and the Huskies' first game this season is against Army. The Black Knights, of course, run the triple option and put a ton of pressure on opposing linebackers. Schiller is the most experienced of NIU's 'backers and he needs a big game from his middle linebacker spot if the Huskies are to keep the triple option somewhat under control.

Keep an eye on: Fresno State QB Derek Carr. Carr's brother is David Carr, the former Bulldogs star who went on to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Carr, a sophomore, will be making his first career start, against California. Bulldogs coaches are extremely high on Carr, so much so that they redshirted him last season rather than waste a year of his eligibility backing up Ryan Colburn. Fresno has a good tailback in Robbie Rouse and the makings of a solid receiving corps, but Carr will be operating behind an offensive line that returns just one full-time starter. The WAC appears wide open, and if Carr has a solid game against a good Cal defense, coach Pat Hill likely will feel confident that his offense is good enough to win the league.

Numbers game: USF is the 140th different opponent in Notre Dame football history and the 69th foe to visit Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have faced 70 of the 120 teams currently competing at the FBS level.

Key injuries: Louisiana-Monroe's Otis Peterson, one of the best corners in the Sun Belt, will miss the Warhawks' game at Florida State with an upper body injury. ... Southern Miss starting C Austin Quattrochi will miss the game with Louisiana Tech with a head injury. ... Western Michigan starting C Kevin Galeher will miss the game against Michigan with a foot injury. Galeher likely would've spent most of his day blocking against Michigan NT Mike Martin, the Wolverines' best defensive player.

What they're saying

"I have a lot of friends there. I was there for a long time and still have plenty of friends who are still there. I have great respect for them and have great respect for that university, but for that three-hour period on Sunday, it's all about doing what we can do to win that football game. That is the only thing that is on my mind." - Marshall coach Doc Holliday, a former longtime West Virginia assistant, on being on the opposite sideline against the Mountaineers

"When you're playing in the fourth quarter and it is 12:15 at night, that is a little bit unusual, so I think we have to try to get our bodies adjusted a little bit differently." - Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, whose team's game at Southern Miss kicks off a little after 9 p.m. local time

"Nationally, nobody expects us to beat Purdue, but we expect to win the game." - Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill, on Saturday's game

"I think we know where we are up until a point. We haven't seen a game. We could practice 50 more times and probably wouldn't change a whole lot of our personnel right now. But when we get in the games, we can see whose light really comes on." - Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, on being a new coach readying for his first game

"It's here. It seems like it's taken forever to get here." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, on the start of the season

Poll watch: Notre Dame is the only ranked team from outside the top seven conferences. UCF, from Conference USA, was ranked the equivalent of 33rd in the preseason coaches' poll.

Etc.: With nine receptions Saturday, Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd would become the leading career receiver in school history; he has 171 catches. ... BYU will play its first game as an independent Saturday at Ole Miss. ... The first game matching conference foes will be Thursday night, when FIU plays host to North Texas in a Sun Belt Conference matchup. It's the first game for Mean Green coach Dan McCarney, who had been Florida's defensive line coach. It's also the first game for FIU defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who held the same position at Connecticut last season. ... Tulsa is opening on the road for the fifth consecutive season, and the opener is at preseason No. 1 Oklahoma. Later this month, Tulsa also plays Oklahoma State and Boise State. That's quite a first month for new coach Bill Blankenship. Tulsa will be without star WR Damaris Johnson, who has been suspended. ... New Mexico State opens its season by playing host to Ohio University. New Mexico State's new offensive coordinator, Doug Martin, knows all about Ohio; Martin had been coach at Kent State, Ohio's MAC rival, for seven seasons before moving West. ... Three Michigan coaches were assistants at Western Michigan together in the 1980s. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke was an assistant with the Broncos from 1984-86, while Michigan defensive coordi¬nator Greg Mattison and tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno served on the WMU staff from 1982-86. .. Hawaii will be without two projected starters for its game with Colorado. WR Darius Bright and LB Aaron Brown have been suspended. ... USF coach Skip Holtz is trying to become just the third Notre Dame alum to beat the Irish since 1940. The others are LSU's Gerry DiNardo (class of '75, with a bowl victory in 1997) and Iowa's Eddie Anderson (class of '22, with a victory in 1940).

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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