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November 24, 2011TULSA, Okla. (AP) - G.J. Kinne's season has been filled with showdowns against college football's best quarterbacks. For his next one, there's a championship on the line.
Kinne leads Tulsa against Case Keenum and No. 8 Houston (11-0, 7-0 C-USA) on Friday with the winner earning the chance to host the Conference USA championship game the following weekend. If he can't lead the Golden Hurricane (8-3, 7-0) to victory, it will be the last home game of his college career.
"It's been really emotional," Kinne said. "I would be lying if I said it hasn't been. I've grown up with these guys. Since I moved to Tulsa, I've matured so much as a person. The University of Tulsa has made me who I am today. It's really emotional.
"I'm not a big crier, but I definitely will be crying on Friday."
Tulsa's only losses this season have come against top 10 opponents -- Oklahoma State, Boise State and Oklahoma. But Kinne gets one last chance at a defining home victory.
It almost didn't happen.
Kinne tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee the team's 59-33 loss to then-No. 7 Oklahoma State back in September. But instead of sitting out for a few weeks, Kinne was right back on the field the following week for the loss at Boise State.
Since then, the Golden Hurricane haven't lost. During a perfect run through Conference USA play, Kinne ranks behind only Keenum -- a Davey O'Brien Award finalist and Heisman Trophy contender -- in total offense (321 ypg), passing (283 ypg), passing touchdowns (18) among the league's quarterbacks.
"I just want to play the best that I can for us to win," Kinne said. "The knee is fine, no soreness at all."
Given Kinne's past, would anyone expect anything less?
In 2005, a 17-year-old Kinne was told that his father, Gary Joe Kinne, had died after being shot at the Texas high school he attended. He found out later that day that his father, who was also his coach, had survived the shooting and been given only a small chance of survival.
Gary Joe Kinne was able to return to the sidelines, and the younger Kinne eventually parlayed his stellar career at Canton and Gilmer high schools into a football scholarship for a Texas team coming off a national championship. Kinne redshirted with the Longhorns in 2007 before electing to leave.
Kinne set his sights on four schools: UCLA, Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.
"I just wanted a chance to get onto the field," he said. "I knew I would have that chance here. Colt (McCoy) had two years left and Texas and I wasn't quite sure where I was with the team at Texas and how they viewed me or wanted to use me. I just decided it would be best to leave.
"Ultimately, I fell in love with Tulsa."
First-year Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship marvels at Kinne's toughness and how he has matured since his first year as a starter in 2009.
"I think G.J. took a lot of criticism and heat of a down year for us as a team after (offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn left," said Blankenship, who was previously the team's receivers coach.
"I don't think it had much to do with G.J. It was a combination of all the factors. Yet, he was a new quarterback and he was learning, and we didn't protect him very well. He got beat to death and yet he still showed some incredible competitiveness."
Blankenship said he believes Kinne started growing last season, when he was chosen as the C-USA offensive player of the year.
"Now, what I've seen this year is he has kind of completed the evolution. Now, he's a cerebral guy," Blankenship said. "He's still got all the athleticism and now he sees the field and makes really good decisions."
Kinne has already had two remarkable games against the Cougars.
In 2009, he threw for 334 yards and three TDs and also ran for 100 yards -- both totals were career-highs at the time -- and had Tulsa in position to win before Houston got a touchdown pass from Keenum with 21 seconds left, recovered an onside kick and connected on a 51-yard field goal as time expired to win 46-45.
Kinne ran for a career-high 190 yards in the Golden Hurricane's 28-25 victory in 2010.
"That was actually the first time I ran the ball so much," Kinne said. "I don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember us being competitive. If that's what (the coaches and team) need me to do this week, I will. If they need me to pass, I'll pass. "
Blankenship finds similarities between Kinne and Keenum, a sixth-year senior who has spent his season breaking NCAA career passing records.
"They are incredibly competitive," Blankenship said. "They both have incredible passing ability. G.J. is a better dual threat. Case is intelligent enough and quick enough to get out of trouble. He's not going to run and consistently beat you. He'll get a few first downs. But G.J. is a guy who could touch it 30 times a game."
The Golden Hurricane have already taken on some of the nation's top passers. Oklahoma's Landry Jones ranks second in passing yards, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden is third and Boise State's Kellen Moore is 12th.
Keenum is first with 388 yards per game, 38 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
"Case compares more with Kellen Moore in terms of being so accurate with the ball. He's not physically imposing but he's just so good with the ball," Blankenship said. "I wouldn't trade G.J. for any of them. His competitiveness, I wouldn't trade him."