The Hawaii Parallel: How A Southern Miss Loss Impacts Houston

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Non-BCS conference teams to play in one of the five most prominent bowl games are 5-2 all-time and 5-1 against Big Six opponents. That one is a constant thorn for potential BCS crashers, though. Georgia’s complete domination of Hawaii in a mismatched 2008 Sugar Bowl is the blemish non-AQs would prefer forget. The Utahs, TCUs and Boise States are who future

The parallels between Hawaii in 2007 and Houston now are undeniable. The June Jones-led Warriors scored points by the dozen with Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Colt Brennan under center. Houston is running up similar scores with Case Keenum flourishing under offensive-friendly head coach Kevin Sumlin. Hawaii dominated a down Western Athletic Conference. Thus far, Houston has had no challenge from Conference USA opponents.

And this year’s UH faces the very real possibility of ending the regular season without the marquee victory needed to declare it BCS worthy.

The literal emptiness of Legion Field on Thursday night could be reflected upon come December as a metaphor. Should Houston meet Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game Dec. 3, there’s suddenly emptiness to a potential Cougar win.

C-USA has never produced a Bowl Championship Series qualifying team. UH appears on track to change that at 10-0. This began as a banner week — Saturday brought the announcement ESPN College GameDay would appear on campus for the Cougars’ tilt against SMU, and non-automatic qualifying darling Boise State lost. But not everything is so rosy for the Cougars. When other programs have such profound impact on your own perception, a loss like USM’s 34-31 defeat at UAB is earth-shattering.

The greatest detraction critics have had against Sumlin’s squad is it has yet to be tested. And indeed, these criticisms are valid but UH finishes with a challenging stretch. SMU is bowl eligible for a third consecutive season, Tulsa hasn’t lost since September, and USM is a top 25 team.

Well, until Monday that is. The Blazers entered Thursday’s contest 2-8 with such noteworthy losses at 49-10 at Tulane and 59-14 at Marshall. Thursday night though, UAB got a stellar defensive effort in the final three quarters to back quarterback Jonathan Perry’s impressive showing. The Blazers looked like an entirely different team from those ghastly blowout defeats, one of which was against Houston.

The Golden Eagles are still almost assuredly representing C-USA East in the title game, but there will be no ranking. Larry Fedora’s bunch has the BCS ratings equivalent of the Bubonic plague, and by extension Houston will carry that. The USM game, the Cougars’ potential marquee match-up, simply won’t be marquee any longer.

USM isn’t a bad team. The Golden Eagles should end the regular season 10-2, but both blemishes are head-scratchers. Big Six elitists will be quick to point out that marquee opponents don’t lose to Marshalls and UABs. And there is validity to such an assessment, even if USM knocked off what has proven to be a good Virginia team.

Houston could close out the season 13-0, but be a complete mystery. Such was the case with Hawaii, which like Houston, awaited its season finale for a marquee win. That win? The Warriors needed a desperate rally to come back from down three touchdowns to Washington.

That Washington team finished 4-9 and out of the bowl picture. Hawaii’s other worthwhile win the game prior came over Boise State. Those particular Broncos weren’t the caliber of the next three, or previous season’s. And among aforementioned Washington’s four wins? Yep…Boise State in Week 2.

Hawaii survived scares along the way that unbeaten ’07 campaign, something Houston hasn’t had to do often. But UH was tested at UTEP, much like Hawaii needed a rally to best Louisiana Tech. A team like Utah in 2004 earned its BCS bid smashing every foe along its way by double digits, and most reasonable assessors would agree that a Mountain West with TCU, BYU and what was then a worthwhile New Mexico is a more accurate gauge of a team’s ability than the WAC in 2007 or C-USA in 2011.

Ultimately these are all arbitrary and perhaps unfair values by which to measure a team that has done all it can do. Houston is playing the games before it and winning them all. If computers and the likes of Skip Bayless are unimpressed, there is little Sumlin, Keenum, Charles Sims or anyone else in the red, white and blue can do to change that.

Everyone pulling for the Cougars can just hope that a potentially unbeaten UH doesn’t suffer the same fate as that other UH, or get the snub the conference’s last unbeaten was given.