MEMPHIS Case Keenum knows what he is doing (talking about the schedule), and he knows what he is not doing (making a judgment about the schedule), and so, no, he tells you, he has not considered the BCS-busting potential that sleeps inside the Cougars' schedule.
"I want to play in the Liberty Bowl," he says.
And he does, of course, want to play in the Liberty Bowl. It is the designated bowl destination for the Conference USA champion, meaning that, in matters pertaining to Houston's schedule, it is the only outcome over which Keenum has any real control.
Yet Keenum, the record-setting quarterback who is back for his sixth season to lead a Houston team picked to win the C-USA West division, also understands a certain reality in college football:
In order for a Conference USA team to make a BCS bowl game, it probably is going to have to go undefeated.
"Probably," he said.
Keenum will leave the topic at that, because it is the right thing to do, but you don't have to dig deep to see that Houston is the C-USA team most likely to go undefeated, because Houston is the C-USA team that best combines skill and schedule.
Which means the Cougars' bad schedule might actually be good.
Houston hosts UCLA to begin the season, and doesn't play another BCS-conference team. It is a schedule that, even if completed perfectly, would keep the Cougars out of any serious discussion for the national championship game, but probably represents Conference USA's best shot yet at getting the first BCS berth in league history.
This, said practically everyone at Conference USA media day Sunday in Memphis, would be huge.
But there is some irony in this. Conference USA teams generally have taken pride in playing difficult nonconference schedules. It is admirably competitive and, depending whether or not you believe sports are a moral endeavor, could even be considered the "right" thing to do. But it hasn't succeeded in elevating any C-USA team into a national power the likes of TCU or Boise State.
It isn't for lack of moxie.
In 2009, Houston played Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State and played UCLA and Mississippi State last year. This season, East Carolina plays South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Marshall plays West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Louisville. Rice plays Texas, Purdue and Baylor. Tulsa plays Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.
On and on it goes.
But so what?
"You gotta win em," Central Florida coach George O'Leary said. "That's what opens up the papers throughout the country."
To its credit, Houston has won its share of em, and that has become a problem. In 2009, the Cougars beat Texas Tech in Houston, won at No. 5 Oklahoma State and at Mississippi State. The Cougars beat Oklahoma State in 2006, the same year they lost at Miami by one. In 2007, they lost at Alabama by six.
And that has made people a little squirmy.
Coach Kevin Sumlin is finding it isn't easy to schedule those games anymore. The big-name teams want a two-for-one deal, where they get two home games and come to Houston once. The Cougars have such an arrangement with UCLA, which runs out after next season.
Sumlin thinks it's time to move past those deals.
"We're not interested in playing a whole lot of two-for-ones," he said. "We're trying to grow our program into a program that can be nationally recognized and I think that's hard to do playing two-for-ones. We think one-for-ones are good and, quite frankly, there's not a whole lot of people interested in playing us one-for-one."
Too bad, right? Or is it bad at all?
In a most unintentional way, the Cougars might actually benefit from this. It would be difficult to imagine an undefeated Conference USA team getting shut out of the BCS, given the recent precedent with TCU and Boise State, who have both risen to the kind of national prominence Sumlin is talking about without playing great schedules.
On the other hand, the Horned Frogs beat Baylor and Oregon State on the way to the Rose Bowl last year and the year before played in the Fiesta Bowl after having beaten Virginia and Clemson. Boise State played TCU in that Fiesta Bowl, having beaten No. 16 Oregon.
There obviously is no way of knowing, for sure, what would happen if a Conference USA team finished the regular season undefeated, which is why Keenum has no interest in talking about it.
It's jus that if you're going to say Houston's schedule this year is bad, you'll need to define the term.