Houston was at a low just a few weeks ago.
An Oct. 16 loss to cross-town rival Rice had people around the program starting to accept what appeared to be a harsh reality: The team just wasn't going to be able to compete in Conference USA without quarterback Case Keenum.
Two dominating wins later, true freshman quarterback David Piland not only has fans thinking bowl game again, but he also plenty in Cougars Nation thinking this week's showdown with UCF could be a preview of a C-USA title game later this year.
In the past two games, Piland has completed 39 of 55 passes (10.9 percent) for 525 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions for Houston (5-3 overall, 4-1 in C-USA).
If you ask UCF (6-2 overall, 4-0 in C-USA) defenders, Piland has the high-powered Houston offense running just fine in the absence of their senior leader.
"From what we've watched, he's doing a good job now," UCF senior defensive end Bruce Miller said of Piland in the Orlando Sentinel. "He struggled a little bit when he first got in, but you know he's got a couple of games under his belt and he's doing a lot of the same things (as Keenum). He delivers a great ball. ... Makes it where the receivers can go and make plays."
Throw in plenty of highly-skilled receivers to throw to and it's no wonder Piland has Houston scoring points at will again.
NOTES, QUOTESV --While he's not making it a focal point of conversation, Houston head coach Kevin Sumlim continues to have his name thrown around as a likely candidate for the vacant University of Minnesota coaching job.
Sumlin, in his third season as the Cougars head coach, certainly has plenty of Minnesota coaching ties, and one personal connection that may mean more than any of those coaching connections: His wife is from Minnesota.
Sumlin was an assistant coach for four years at Minnesota in the 1990s and has plenty of connections to past Golden Gophers coaches and players and could easily assemble a coaching staff of guys familiar with the Big Ten and the school.
--Friday night's UCF at Houston game features the league's highest scoring offense in Houston (41.6 points per game) against the league's stingiest scoring defense in UCF (allowing just 16.5 points per game).
--Houston and Texas Tech have finally agreed on a kickoff time for their Nov. 27 season-finale in Lubbock. Texas Tech officials announced this week the game with kick off at 7 p.m. local time.
SERIES HISTORY: UCF leads Houston 2-1 (last meeting, 2009, 37-32 UCF).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: True freshman QB David Piland has taken over the reins of the offense. He has the confidence in himself and has earned the confidence of his veteran teammates and has the Cougars scoring points like crazy again, just like they had done in head coach Kevin Sumlin's previous two seasons. RBs Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes have been running the ball well this season and have combined for 20 TDs on the ground. Whether those guys can do that against the best defense in C-USA this week is an entirely different question, but at least for now, Houston's offense has no problems.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: LB Marcus McGraw continues to shine as one of the league's unsung stars, largely because the defense he plays on too often appears far too mediocre to realize there is a great player at the center of it all. McGraw has 70 tackles and could star on any defense in the league. The Houston defense as a whole, however, simply can't stop the run, allowing 194.2 yards on the ground per game. Only Memphis' 195.2 rushing yards allowed per game is worse in C-USA. The Cougars will be tested Friday by a UCF offense averaging 199.9 rushing yards per game, second-best in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're playing a little bit better. We're improving, and this time of year, that's important, based on where we were four weeks ago." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin to the Houston Press sports blog.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: UCF at Houston, Nov. 5 -- Some see this as a potential C-USA title game preview, but maybe only if Houston wins. If the Cougars lose, they likely don't win the West Division whereas UCF can still win the East with a loss. Either way, Friday night's nationally-televised game pits two of the league's top teams, even if Houston isn't at full strength.
KEYS TO THE GAME: QB David Piland has looked great in recent weeks, but he hasn't faced a defense as good as the one UCF fields every week. Rattle the youngster who was still in high school at this time last year. Houston's defense can't stop any run game, so be patient on offense and run the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Marcus McGraw -- The Houston linebacker is one of the league's best and has an opportunity to prove that Friday in the league's showcase game of the week. If he can help overcome Houston's lack of a defensive line and still stop the run, Houston has a chance.
QB David Piland -- If the true freshman can handle the mighty UCF defense without having the entire Houston offense miss a beat, he'll elevate himself form nice story to legend in the making at Houston.
RBs Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes -- The duo, assuming Beall is healthy after leaving last week's game with a knee injury, has to set to tone to take the pressure off QB David Piland. The two RBs have scored 20 TDs on the ground this year.
--RB Bryce Beall left last week's game at Memphis with a knee injury, but whether that was precautionary against a weak Memphis team or whether he was seriously hurt might not be known until we see him play Friday against UCF.