September 19, 2010
It didn't look good when Houston quarterback Case Keenum came up lame Saturday night in the process of making a tackle on his second interception of the first half at UCLA, and the Cougars' worst fears were confirmed Sunday by the Houston Chronicle: Keenum is out for the year with a torn ACL, likely ending the career of the most prolific active passer in the country.
In fact, the night was a triple-whammy. The Cougars not only lost their heralded starter and the game, 31-13, but also Keenum's backup, Cotton Turner, who left in the third quarter with a broken collarbone that will put him on the shelf for the rest of the season, too. With that, the baton passes directly to true freshman Terrance Broadway, who at least managed a garbage-time touchdown pass against the Bruins in his first career action. So he only has 106 more to go to catch up to Keenum.
Houston may be the quintessential "system offense," designed to succeed by giving smart, accurate guys who may not be future draft picks a chance for big numbers by relying on a flood of quick, manageable throws and keeping the pedal pressed to the floor at all times. But it's not like Keenum is some random cog. Off back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons at the head of the nation's No. 1 offense in 2008 and 2009, he came into his senior year a virtual lock to smash the Division I records for career passing yards and touchdowns, maybe with a little Heisman and/or BCS chatter, for good measure. His presence was a key reason Houston was a runaway favorite to win Conference USA. The only foreseeable hurdle: He had to remain healthy.
Keenum redshirted behind current Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Kolb as a true freshman in 2006, so his only option for a sixth year of eligibility next season is an appeal to the NCAA for a medical hardship. The standard requirement for a waiver is the 20 percent rule: A player is eligible to have a year of eligibility restored if he was injured within the first 20 percent of his team's games in a given season. The timing of Keenum's injury – the third game of a 12-game regular season – is right on that threshold, and his success may depend on whether the Cougars can add a 13th game with their sixth straight bowl appearance, or possibly a 14th with a return to the C-USA Championship Game. Of course, if they make it that far with Broadway at the controls, there may not be quite as much urgency to get Keenum back all of a sudden.
In the meantime, he's another great player spending the rest of what was supposed to be the defining fall of his career on crutches. Life is not fair.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.