The nation may snooze or scoff, but for Southern Miss fans, Happy Holidays means the Conference USA championship, a crown USM has worn four times in the league's first decade. Only one coronation has come since 1999, though, in 2003, a brief interruption in an overall slide to mediocrity that culminated at midseason with a humiliating Halloween loss to East Carolina to fall to 4-4. With its fifth straight win tonight, however, the Eagles can again take back - however briefly - the league they still feel should be theirs on an annual basis.
Recklessly clogging USM's championship path is Houston, improbably seeking double-digit wins after knocking off every C-USA foe it faced except Southern Miss, which led SMQ for his weekly one-on-one with a blogger, reporter or other insider of Southern's upcoming opponent to Rich Connelly, reporter and blogger for the alternative weekly Houston Press. Connelly sat down with SMQ over Angelo Bucco and Dungeness crab-stuffed ahi to discuss the metonymy of linking being with history, products of a fluid tropological economy and paradigmatic juxtapositions of anthropomorphoric - albeit orthogonal - matrazolism.
SMQ: The city of Houston - where all citizens are imagined by outsiders to be "bastards" and "sonsabitches," as depicted in Seinfeld - has no big game football experience from a home team since the old Oilers were regularly blowing comfortable playoff leads in the early nineties. Are y'all bastards stoked for Friday?
RC: Oh yeah. "Stoked" only begins to cover it. I imagine that if you asked 1,000 Houstonians to name UH's starting QB, almost 25 of them could do it. And 15 of those would mispronounce his name.
UH, although it's trying hard to change things, still has the feel of a commuter school (a/k/a "Cougar High"), where students care more about finding a good parking space than they do about the football team. And in terms of local media coverage, UT gets tons more than UH. So if you run into one of the sonsabitches around here, they're probably sporting burnt orange instead of Cougar red.
By the way, in terms of "big game experience," you're forgetting the Texans' first-ever game, where they beat the Cowboys at Reliant Stadium. Texans fans still reverently celebrate the holiday, especially seeing what's happened since.
SMQ: Houston's a 4.5 to 5-point favorite across the board and the presumptive Liberty Bowl pick in most very official bowl projections, but lost at USM in October by a wider margin than the score indicates (UH scored a meaningless touchdown on the final play) and had lost seven straight to Southern Miss before a close win in Houston last year. Why do the Cougars deserve the favorite status rather than a rep as Southern's bitch?
RC: Obviously the linemakers have been able to determine just which 2006 Cougar team will show up Friday night, the good one or the incredibly shitty one that needed OT to beat Memphis (Memphis! That's like the Wehrmacht needing OT to beat Poland). Which means either a) The linemakers are incredibly insightful, or b) They will learn, like the rest of us, that predicting how the Coogs will play on any given day is a fool's errand.
SMQ: Eighteenth-year senior Kevin Kolb: hero or bum? Does Friday's game matter in his legacy?
RC: Scoff if you will at Kolb's lengthy career, but there are some of us who find something admirable in an athlete spending his entire time with a single team. Generations have seen Kolb wear the red and white, and that's a bonding thing outsiders just can't understand.
Who can blame Kevin for staying at UH so long, when there's the chance to enjoy readings from the celebrated Creative Writing Department or the Edward Albee Playwright
Workshop? On the other hand, it could just be that he likes the feral-hog hunting around here.
Kevin Kolb's freshman recruiting class
Friday's game, whether good or ill, will do little to tarnish the many years of often-adequate play UH has received from Kolb. And don't forget - the official Kolb-for-Heisman website still probably gets a couple of hits a day, not all of them necessarily from Kevin.
The guy who killed USM in October was lanky receiver Theron Harvey, who had four big plays that accounted directly or indirectly for three of Houston's four scores; by far, this was the best game of his career before or since. The two-headed running game, on the other hand, was hammered into submission then but seems to have dominated since on a regular basis. Freaky Friday (er, Saturday) back then, or what?
RC: I think his name is Jeron, not Theron, but I can't blame someone for having Charlize on his brain. Harvey came to UH from Dodge City Community College, so I guess he'd be great if the game becomes a shootout. But I also guess he only has one career game in him, and you've already seen it.
Theron? On the brain? Why would you Theron that, Theron?
SMQ: Two teams, three combined wins over opponents above
.500 and home losses to East Carolina and UL-Lafayette. Does the winner deserve the trophy?
RC: It depends on how you define "deserve." I mean, technically speaking you could determine what is the Best Movie in the Police Academy Series and give it an award, but I'm not sure how much that would mean in the big scheme of things.
Let's be frank -- We're talking about the Conference USA trophy here, not the Nobel Prize. If Duke and Temple played each other annually, they'd have to come up with some sort of prize for the winner (The Golden Cupcake?). This year, the C-USA trophy is kind of like that.
You didn't ask, but here's a little bonus information at no charge: Some of the best fried chicken in Houston can be found a block south of Robertson Stadium: Frenchy's on Scott Street. The lines can be long, but it's worth it.
Certainly food-based queries are requisite and a gross oversight on part of SMQ. Southern Miss and Houston play for the Conference USA championship tonight at 7 p.m. Central in Houston's Robertson Stadium on ESPN.