Houston Cougars: Inside Slant

Houston's first bowl appearance was a 26-21 win over Dayton in the 1952 Salad Bowl. This is the 13th time Houston has played a bowl game in the Lone Star State. Houston defeated Air Force 34-28 in last year's Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars lost to Air Force 31-28 on Sept. 13, 2008, in a game that was relocated to SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium after Hurricane Ike took aim on Southeast Texas.

INSIDE SLANT

The postseason honors keep rolling in for Houston quarterback Case Keenum.

In addition to receiving the Sammy Baugh Award and being named the Most Valuable Player of Conference USA, the junior quarterback was selected to the Walter Camp Foundation All-America second team.

The Abilene, Texas, native threw for 5,449 yards and 43 touchdowns during the 2009 season while completing 71 percent of his passes.

The Baugh Award is presented annually to the top passer in collegiate football. Keenum threw for 500-plus yards in four games this season. He led the Cougars to the C-USA championship game against defending champion East Carolina. His passing yardage set a school single-season record.

Fellow Cougar David Klingler is a past winner of the Baugh Award.

Keenum leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense (429.3 yards per game), touchdown passes (43) and passing yards per game (419.2), and he finished with just nine interceptions.

He was a finalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and the Walter Camp Football Foundation National Player of the Year. A season ago, Keenum was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Houston and Air Force will meet for the third time in the past 16 months in the Armed Forces Bowl.

The Cougars, ranked 25th in the coaches poll, will return to the postseason game, which will be played Dec. 31 at TCU's Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

It is the fifth straight bowl game for Houston and a rematch of last year's Armed Forces Bowl, won by Houston, 34-28. It was UH's first bowl victory in 28 years.

The teams also met in the 2008 regular season in Dallas.

"When you look to play a bowl game, you always seek out the following criteria: quality of experience for your student-athletes, ability for ours fans to travel to the game and the quality of the opponent you are playing," said Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades. "In this case all three of these conditions are extremely positive."

The Cougars captured the Conference USA West Division and played for the league title, falling short in a 38-32 loss to East Carolina in the championship game. Houston will enter the bow with a 10-3 record, while the Falcons head to Fort Worth for the third straight season with a 7-5 record.

"The student-athletes had a great experience last year, and they'll have an even better experience this year. The fans can drive to Fort Worth to watch the game, and Air Force is a nationally known opponent with a great football history," Rhoades said.

Houston will enter the bowl game as a ranked team for the first time since 1988, when the Cougars traveled to Honolulu to play in the Aloha Bowl. The No. 14 Cougars dropped a 24-22 decision to Washington State in that bowl game.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: A nationally ranked team during 11 weeks this season, the Cougars boast the nation's No. 1 offense in total yards (581.2 yards per game) and passing (450.0 ypg) and No. 2 in scoring with 43.9 points per game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Houston's defense allowed 413 yards to East Carolina in the Conference USA championship game. The Cougars surrendered 151 yards on the ground -- or an average of 4 yards per rush. Fortunately, Houston will have plenty of time to shore up its run-stoppers for an Air Force team that ranks fourth nationally in rushing.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Houston QB Case Keenum vs. Air Force DB Anthony Wright -- Keenum definitely needs to find Wright on each snap. The ball-hawking Wright has taken two of his three interceptions back for touchdowns this year. Keenum has thrown only nine interceptions against 43 touchdowns.

OTHER KEY MATCHUPS: Houston P Chase Turner vs. Air Force KR Reggie Rembert -- Rembert is Air Force's career leader in kickoff returns and kickoff-return yardage with 64 for 1,373 yards. He is also the Mountain West Conference's active career leader and ranks fifth in conference history overall in returns and third in return yards. Turner and the Cougars were 90th in net punting with a 33-yard average.

Houston RB Charles Sims vs. Air Force LB John Falgout -- Sims, the C-USA Freshman of the Year, will be challenged by the Falcons' team leader in tackles. Falgout has 96 tackles in 12 games, while Sims leads the Cougars with 632 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Falgout will also need to be mobile, as Sims also added 64 catches for 702 yards and one touchdown.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are excited about returning to the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. We had a great experience last year, and we played in a great game against a formidable opponent. We look forward to another great game this season, and we expect a great challenge from a very good Air Force team." -- Coach Kevin Sumlin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN: Houston vs. Air Force, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 31, Fort Worth -- The Cougars are 8-10-1 in bowl games overall. Houston's first bowl appearance was a 26-21 win over Dayton in the 1952 Salad Bowl in Phoenix. This is the 13th time Houston has played a bowl game in the Lone Star State. Houston defeated Air Force 34-28 in last year's Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars lost to Air Force 31-28 on Sept. 13, 2008, in a game that was relocated to SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium after Hurricane Ike took aim on the Southeast Texas coast.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Case Keenum -- He enters the final game of his junior season leading the nation in total offense (429.31 ypg), passing (419.15 ypg) and touchdown passes (43).

WR James Cleveland -- He ranks second in the nation with 9.2 catches per game and sixth with 107.5 receiving yards per game. He has caught 11 touchdown passes this season.

LB Marcus McGraw -- He has 123 tackles on the season to rank 14th nationally at 10.2 stops per game. He will be key in slowing down the Falcons' triple-option.

ROSTER REPORT:
--WR Patrick Edwards has been nominated for the Rudy Award. The sophomore returned from a broken leg suffered last season and was nominated for the award, which honors student-athletes who demonstrate exemplary character, courage, contribution and commitment.

--LB Phillip Steward has filled in admirably for injured SLB Kris Johnston. The true freshman has started the past six games, and he is third on the team with 77 tackles.


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