And like that, he's gone.
Ever since word started to leak out of the Cougar camp on Sunday, a feeling of disbelief has washed over the Cougar faithful. Case Keenum, poster boy of the Cougar football program, tore his ACL. As a senior not eligible for a medical redshirt, Keenum's college career is over, pending a shot-in-the-dark appeal for a sixth year.
The list of dreams shattered by this piece of news is a lengthy one: Keenum was on pace to easily become the NCAA's all-time leading passer by the end of the year. Houston was hoping to win a conference title for the first time under Keenum. The Cougars had an outside shot (before the loss, obviously) at a BCS-busting season. No. 7 was touted by many as a Heisman hopeful if he could once again replicate the eye-popping numbers he put up under Sumlin and company the last two years.
All of that is gone. Keenum's shot at a professional career may be a thing of the past, as well. The odds were already stacked against him. He's smaller than the prototypical NFL quarterback, and was clearly going to get stuck with the dreaded "system quarterback" label. Throw in an ACL injury and, fair or not, there may not be a pro team willing to take a chance on him.
Case Keenum's legacy simply will not be the one that many starry-eyed Coogs (myself included) had in mind. That is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.
But one would be remiss to forget just what Keenum did accomplish. He led his team to its first bowl victory in 28 years. He became the all-time leading passer at a school where that title truly means something. He led an offense so prolific that the mainstream media was forced to take notice. Every time the spotlight found its way to Keenum, he handled himself with dignity, and made his fans proud. Keenum was the kind of athlete, on and off the field, that was impossible not to like. Even opposing fans never seemed to have a bad word to say about him. He was one of those special players you truly want to tell your grandchildren about someday.
From a team standpoint, the victories over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and others that the Cougars scored behind Keenum have done immeasurable good for this school in the long run. The Oklahoma State win put the Coogs on the map. As I have mentioned before, the Texas Tech win positively affected the psyche of the entire University of Houston.
For countless years, UH has had to deal with rampant student apathy. In 2010, the Cougars sold out their first two games, despite a 1-AA opponent, and a funky start time (9:15 p.m. on a Friday). In the past, these excuses would have led to a half-empty stadium. But not any more. In all likelihood, every game will sell out for the rest of the year. There is already a sense around campus that, without Keenum, it is more important than ever for the fans to step up and show the team their support.
The Cougars, led by Keenum, have gotten so many people excited about the Houston football program, that even Keenum's departure will only serve to galvanize the fan base. Cougar apathy is a thing of the past. That is Keenum's legacy, and it means much more than even the gaudiest of pass statistics.
I'm not saying we'd never have gotten where we are as a school without Case Keenum. But it would've taken a helluva lot longer.