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A Wide Open West: Case Keenum's Injury Changes the Dynamic of the C-USA West Race

Miner fans know the value of having a fully healthy squad. UTEP's had more than their fair share of injuries this season as Donald Buckram still hasn't played a down and Braxton Amy was lost for the year with a torn ACL. We know how injuries can change expectations and results for each squad on a weekly basis. And, I think we all feel for Houston Cougar fans who have had as miserable a 24 hour span as possible in the world of college football.

Last night was supposed to be Houston's coming out party to the nation. The Cougars, fresh off an impressive 54-24 win against last year's party spoiler UTEP, were dead set on blasting a struggling Pac 10 power out of the Rose Bowl. The Coogs had finally cracked the AP rankings (#23) and the Coogs seemed to have dodged a bullet when All-American candidate Case Keenum was cleared to play after suffering from a mild concussion against the Miners.

His injury against UTEP came when trying to tackle Travaun Nixon after an interception. In the second quarter of the UCLA game, he tossed another pick and tore his ACL trying to make the tackle on a UCLA defender.

Keenum was awfully close to smashing several NCAA records. He was under 2,500 yards behind Timmy Chang's NCAA record 17,072 carer passing yards. He needed 28 touchdown passes to pass Graham Harrell's career record of 134. To compound the setback to the Cougars, backup Cotton Turner broke his collar bone and is also out for the season. Turner looked good against UTEP in relief last week. Last night, Coack Kevin Sumlin turned to Terrance Broadway. From UH's official site: 4-star quarterback at Capitol High... rated the fifth-best dual threat quarterback in the nation by 11th best player in Louisiana by ranked as No. 60 athlete in the nation by ESPN... named First-Team All-State quarterback and First-Team All-District... Offense-Defense All-American Bowl participant... led his team to state championship game... was 135-of-221 for 2,140 yards with 20 touchdowns... First-Team All State quarterback by New Orleans Times-Picayune and Baton Rouge Morning Advocate.

Broadway saw the first significant playing time of his true freshman season last night. He went 5/8 for 84 yards and a touchdown against in UH's 31-13 loss to the Bruins. I'm not saying Houston isn't capable of challenging for the C-USA West title with Broadway. We don't know what his limitations will be as a true frosh coming in so early That said, there's no denying that Houston isn't going to be the same team after losing the record setting Keenum.

Where Does the West Stand Now?

Coming into the 2010 season, I believed that any of four squads could legitimately have a shot to win the West: Houston, SMU, UTEP, and Tulsa. Three weeks into the season, there's no denying that any of those four schools can still win it. Houston was the clear favorite to win not only the West division but the C-USA Championship. Houston represented perhaps the C-USA's best ever chance to have a team qualify for a BCS Bowl Game. Now that the Coogs are down to their third string quarterback, the west is absolutely wide open.

Here's a brief rundown of each of the four schools that are in the mix (in no particular order).

1. SMU Mustangs (2-1, 1-0)

SMU already has a C-USA win over UAB. The Mustangs struggled more than most thought they would against Washington State but pulled it out 35-21. SMU has a somewhat favorable C-USA draw. The Mustangs get Tulsa and Houston at home. They play UTEP at El Paso on November 6. Their East opponents are an up and down Marshall squad and they finish the season but they do end the 2010 season on the road against a strong East Carolina squad.

Tulsa just got throttled at Stillwater against Oklahoma State 65-28. There's no denying that TU might have the worst defense of all the West contenders and their offensive line is very much a work in progress. Their offense is still moving the ball at an incredible rate. Like UTEP, Tulsa already has a C-USA loss against ECU. TU gets UTEP at home but travels to SMU and Houston. TU ends their season at home against a Southern Miss. squad that just pummeled the Big 12's Kansas.

3. The Houston Cougars (2-1, 1-0)

The Coogs do have some schedule luck on their side. Next week, UH gets a struggling Tulane squad at home next week. Then, Houston has a much needed bye. After the bye, the Coogs get the SEC's Mississippi State at home then kick off a three game road swing in C-USA play (Rice, SMU, Memphis). So, Houston travels to SMU and gets Tulsa at home. Of all the West contenders, UH might have the hardest East division draw. The Coogs get UCF at home on November 5 and play at Southern Miss on November 20.

4. The UTEP Miners (2-1, 0-1)

UTEP of course has already lost to Houston. So, the Miners can't afford a loss to the other 2 contenders. The good news for UTEP is that the Miners have the most favorable schedule of the bunch. First of all, UTEP is entering a stretch where the Miners play Memphis (1-2), New Mexico (0-3), Rice (1-2), UAB (1-2), and Tulane (1-1). The combined record there is 4-10. UTEP gets SMU at home and travels to Tulsa to finish the season.

UTEP has the most favorable C-USA East draw because the Miners draw UAB and Marshall. Marshall has some great talent on defense but right now they probably aren't in the same class as ECU, UCF, and Southern Miss. SMU gets East Carolina. Tulsa already lost to ECU and still plays Southern Miss. Houston still has to play UCF and Southern Miss.

I think when we look back at the West Champion's road to the C-USA Title game, the deciding games might be those against the best squads in the East. Every squad in the C-USA has now lost a game. The favorite to win it all is now down to their 3rd string quarterback who is a true freshman. SMU has been up and down but definitely has enough talent to win it all. Tulsa's offense, led by G.J. Kinne, should have them in every C-USA game they play. UTEP has the nations 18th ranked total offense. The stage is now set for a true rat race in the West.

So, after three weeks of games. All we know is that anybody can win the West. Next week UTEP takes on Memphis. Every game counts for the Miners. All this speculation is moot for Miner fans if Mike Price & Co. lose to a Memphis squad that squeaked by Middle Tennessee State on Saturday. So, UTEP's players undoubtedly know that the C-USA West Titles is now up for grabs. Hopefully, they aren't looking past the Tigers who, by the way, beat UTEP last year.