In 2003, the opponent was TCU. Like Houston, the Horned Frogs were undefeated, ranked in the top ten, and in-line for a BCS bowl bid if they garnered a victory against Southern Miss in their final game of the regular season.
As underdogs, Southern Miss controlled the game from the opening kickoff and went on to win 40-28 to earn the C-USA title and a trip to the Liberty Bowl.
The main difference between 2003 and this year is the Golden Eagles benefited from an electric home atmosphere at The Rock against TCU.
This time they will seek déjà vu away from The Rock at Houston’s Robertson Stadium, a place where Southern Miss is 3-4 and have lost three straight.
They are currently 13-point underdogs and few, if any, outside of the Southern Miss faithful expect a victory.
The game is the biggest game in the history of the 15-year old C-USA. It is the first time the conference has enjoyed two ranked teams battling it out in the title game.
A Houston win puts them in a BCS bowl, which would be a first for a C-USA school and would guarantee a multi-million dollar check to the conference.
Mathematically speaking, Southern Miss also has a shot at a BCS birth with a win.
Because Houston is undefeated and displays Heisman candidate Case Keenum, the game should receive high ratings from a national audience on ABC. It is a chance to show the nation the two best C-USA teams.
If history is any indicator; it should be a high-scoring close affair between the Eagles and Cougars. The last two games have seen a combined total of 193 points scored.
Last season Southern Miss, which enjoys a 8-5 lifetime record against UH, got the edge with a 59-41 victory in Hattiesburg, while Houston won in 2009 50-43. The Cougars also got the best of the Eagles in the 2006 title game, although Southern Miss won the regular season matchup.
Keenum is the conference’s top quarterback, and the Eagles’ Austin Davis is arguably the second best quarterback in the conference.
Despite the fact that both are seniors and both have started since they were freshman, they have never gone head-to-head. Last season, Keenum was hurt and did not play against Southern Miss, while Davis was hurt in 2009 and did not play in the loss.
Saturday, the two seasoned signal callers will get to go at it head-to-head for the first time.
It will be an opportunity for Davis to accomplish the one thing he has not during his four-record breaking seasons as the Eagle quarterback—win a conference title.
The final quarterbacks that Davis passed in the record books—Lee Roberts, Dustin Almond, and Jeff Kelly—all have at least one C-USA title (Brett Farve played when SMiss was an independent in football).
A win on Saturday would only strengthen the argument that Davis is the most accomplished quarterback to ever wear the Black and Gold. That would not be an insignificant thing, since Reggie Collier and Brett Farve are his competition.
A win would not only be a fitting near end (bowl game to follow) to Davis’ career, but it would also reestablish Southern Miss as the premier football school in C-USA on the national stage.
Much is at stake on Saturday, for the conference, for Keenum, for Houston, for Davis, and for Southern Miss. All that is left now is to sit back and enjoy what should be an exciting game with a great atmosphere.