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Houston could give C-USA expensive parting gift
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Case Keenum and undefeated Houston could give Conference USA one heck of a parting gift.
The high-scoring Cougars are trying to become the first team from C-USA to earn a bid to the Bowl Championship Series.
No. 11 Houston is also one of three C-USA teams being pursued by the Big East, along with SMU and Central Florida.
That makes Houston’s game against SMU on Saturday a potential preview of a future Big East western division game, as well as a game with major BCS — and financial — implications to the conference.
The Mountain West earned about $7 million for TCU’s Rose Bowl appearance last year, and C-USA would expect a similar windfall if the Cougars make it this season. Though depending on if and when the Cougars move, they might not get to share it, making it an even more generous present to those left behind.
Eventually, the executives and administrators will determine who goes where when and who gets what.
But first, Coach Kevin Sumlin and the Cougars, averaging 54 points per game, have to worry about getting through what figures to be the toughest part of their schedule unscathed in the next few weeks.
“Sometimes dealing with success is more difficult than dealing with failure,” Sumlin said.
After facing the Mustangs (6-4), the Cougars go to Tulsa (7-3) for a game that could determine the C-USA West title. The Golden Hurricane have not lost a conference game after facing the toughest nonconference schedule in the country.
Tulsa was roughed up by Oklahoma, Boise State and Oklahoma State.
If Houston does reach the C-USA championship game, No. 22 Southern Mississippi (9-1) likely awaits.
The Cougars are trying to join TCU, Boise State Utah and Hawaii as teams from leagues without automatic bids to reach the BCS.
Boise State’s loss to TCU last week opened the door for the Cougars to be this season’s BCS buster, but that door is not entirely closed for the Broncos or Horned Frogs to get in again. Or maybe even Southern Miss.
Here’s why.
The usual path for a BCS buster is finishing in the top 12 of the final standings as a conference champion from one of the non-AQ leagues. Houston is on that path as long as it wins out. If the Cougars lose, things could get interesting.
Another road opens if a champion from a non-AQ is ranked in the final top 16, ahead of one of the champions from the automatic qualifying leagues. The Big East, with no teams in the most recent BCS top 25, could open that path. The Big Ten, with no teams ranked better than 15th, could also make that road available.
Boise State is ranked 10th in the latest BCS standings and should stay in the top 16 as long as it doesn’t lose, but the chances of the Broncos winning the MWC are slim. TCU has a one game lead and the tiebreaker and has lowly Colorado State and even lowlier UNLV left on the schedule.
The Horned Frogs are 19th in the standings, and might have a hard time reaching the top 16 with such poor competition remaining.
If Southern Miss were to run the table, beat a previously unbeaten Houston and win C-USA, that might be enough to get the Golden Eagles in the top 16, but right now they are 20th.
It’s more likely that if Houston slips, there will be no BCS buster this year.

The picks:

North Carolina (plus 10 1-2) at No. 9 Virginia Tech —
Death, taxes and the Hokies playing for an ACC title ... VIRGINIA TECH 24-16.
No. 22 Southern Miss (minus 23 1-2) at UAB — Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora is a hot candidate for other jobs ... SOUTHERN MISS 42-14.
No. 2 Oklahoma State (minus 26 1-2) at Iowa State —
Last step toward Bedlam for Cowboys ... OKLAHOMA STATE 45-24.
No. 1 LSU (minus 29) at Mississippi — Rebels suspended starting quarterback and tailback for game ... LSU 42-0.
Georgia Southern (no line) at No. 3 Alabama — Bulldogs could win an FCS title ... ALABAMA 52-10.
No. 18 Southern California (plus 15) at No. 4 Oregon — Ducks have scored 100 points in winning two straight against USC ... OREGON 43-27.
No. 5 Oklahoma (minus 14 1-2) at No. 25 Baylor — A big game could make Bears QB Robert Griffin III Heisman finalist ... OKLAHOMA 50-28.
Mississippi State (plus 13) at No. 6 Arkansas at Little Rock — Razorbacks are 8-0-1 against Bulldogs in Arkansas ... ARKANSAS 24-14.
No. 7 Clemson (minus 7 1-2) at North Carolina State — Tigers have been vulnerable on road ... CLEMSON 33-14.
California (plus 19) at No. 8 Stanford — Andrew Luck’s Heisman no lock anymore ... STANFORD 42-17
No. 10 Boise State (minus 18) at San Diego State — Broncos now playing for Las Vegas Bowl? ... BOISE STATE 35-21.
SMU (plus 19) at No. 11 Houston — Mustangs RB Zach Line is sixth in nation in rushing ... HOUSTON 42-38.
Indiana (plus 28 1-2) at No. 12 Michigan State — Spartans back in control of Legends Division race ... MICHIGAN STATE 42-10.
Kentucky (plus 30 1-2) at No. 13 Georgia —
After all the Bulldogs have been through, not about to slip up now ... GEORGIA 45-13.
The Citadel (no line) at No. 14 South Carolina — Finally, an opponent on which the Gamecocks can pile up some points ... SOUTH CAROLINA 48-16
No. 15 Wisconsin (minus 14) at Illinois — The wheels might be coming off for Illini coach Ron Zook ... WISCONSIN 38-14.
No. 16 Kansas State (plus 9) at Texas — K-State first team since AP went to Top 25 in 1989 to allow 50 in three straight and stay ranked ... KANSAS STATE 31-24.
No. 17 Nebraska (plus 3 1-2) at No. 20 Michigan — Cornhuskers at the Big House. That’s why in conference realignment, Big Ten wins ... NEBRASKA 24-21
Colorado State (plus 33) at No. 19 TCU — TCU’s Gary Patterson, Mountain West Conference coach of the year ... TCU 45-7
No. 21 Penn State (plus 7) at Ohio State — No Paterno. No Tressel. Who would have imagined that 12 months ago? ... OHIO STATE 20-7.
Virginia (plus 17) at No. 23 Florida State — Seminoles have looking like team they were expected to be ... FLORIDA STATE 28-14.
Boston College (plus 24 1-2) at No. 24 Notre Dame — Eagles are 3-1 in last four trips to South Bend ... NOTRE DAME 38-10

Last week’s record: 17-3 (straight); 13-7 (vs. spread).
Season record: 173-41 (straight); 106-84-1 (vs. spread).
Best bets: 8-3.
Upset specials (vs. spread): 6-5.