Houston Cougars Case Keenum A Heisman Trophy Candidate?

Case KeenumCollege football is right around the corner, and it figures to be an exciting season, especially in Texas.

The Texas Longhorns figure to be in the national championship mix again, and quarterback Colt McCoy is a legitimate Heisman contender.

TCU has been picked to win the Mountain West.

Baylor might take a big jump under Art Briles with talented quarterback Robert Griffin.

Locally, the University of Houston should very much be in the mix to win Conference-USA.

Projections for the Cougars range anywhere from first to third in C-USA West, with UTEP and Tulsa the other contenders. While the Cougars are more talented than both — at least on offense — they play both on the road this season, which makes for a tough task.

But if the Cougars can improve on last year’s disaster of a defense, it shouldn’t matter where they play.

But we’ll preview Conference USA at another time. Today is about the Heisman.

McCoy could very well win it this year, especially if the Longhorns are able to beat Oklahoma. But it will be a crime if Houston’s Case Keenum does not get a lot of support this season.

Keenum’s numbers last year were sick. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 5,020 yards, 44 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He did it without a true superstar wideout, losing Donnie Avery to the NFL before the season.

If you got a chance to see Keenum in person, you saw a poised quarterback with terrific pocket presence. You saw a young man growing as the season went on.

All signs point to an even bigger year in 2009. Injured receiver Patrick Edwards is expected to return. An influx of new talent such as WR James Cleveland should give him more targets than ever before.

Keenum’s offensive line is inexperienced, which might be the one concern. But it is a talented group that should get better as the season goes on.

Keenum will have some high-profile games in which to thrive and gain national attention: at Oklahoma State, at home against Texas Tech and on the road against Mississippi State.

To get serious consideration, the Cougars will need to win the conference, and Keenum will need cut down on his interceptions. While 11 is remarkable considering he threw the ball 589 times, all of the top Heisman quarterbacks from last season — McCoy, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Graham Harrell — had fewer than 10 interceptions. McCoy had 7, Bradford ( who won) had 6 and Tebow had just two, although he didn’t throw the ball as much. McCoy, Bradford and Harrell played in similar spread offenses as Keenum. They also played against bad Big 12 defenses, but C-USA isn’t exactly filled with defensive skill, either.

McCoy, Bradford and Tebow are all back. All three will be in the mix again, and who wins the national championship will have a big say in the Heisman winner.

Keenum won’t win in 2009, but getting a lot of votes this year would be a big deal for a lot of reasons.

For that to realistically happen, the Cougars need to go 10-2 and win the conference and get in the Liberty Bowl against a prominent opponent. Keenum needs to push 50 TDs and have fewer than 10 picks. And McCoy and Bradford in particular have to take a step backward. (Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson will be heard from as well).

If all that happens? Keenum should be in the top five vote-getters. His name will appear in Heisman watches around the country. And most importantly, he will be set up to make a serious run in 2010, when he will be a senior and McCoy, Bradford and Tebow will be gone.

It will be a fun football season in the state. For Keenum and the Cougars, it could be special. Look for both to have big years, and for 2010 to be even better.