Owls are overlooked, even in their own town

Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In the heart of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States with nearly 2.4 million people, sits an academic giant with less than glamorous athletic programs at Rice University.

Houston, a sprawling concrete jungle of freeways and shopping malls, is a professional sports city. Everything revolves around the Astros, the Rockets and the Texans.

Tuesday’s online edition of the Houston Chronicle featured six articles on college football.

Not a single one concerned Rice.

LSU moving its practices to NRG Stadium in Houston got more ink than the Owls.

It hasn’t always been that way.

From 2012 to 2014, the Owls actually had winning records and went to minor bowls.

They were competitive during Ken Hatfield’s stay from 1994 to 2005, and in the late 1940s and 1950s they played in three Cotton Bowls and the Sugar and Orange Bowls.

I’m not saying Rice’s end was when she was left behind when the former Southwestern Conference merged with the Big 8, but the Owls have had 17 losing seasons since 1996.

Current coach Mike Bloomgren is 7-23 years old, but if he trains his players and sends doctors, lawyers and engineers out into the world, then he’s probably not in the hot seat.

Rice, like a handful of schools, is all about academics. It ranks No. 21 in the country academically, according to Forbes magazine.

But last year, the Owls went undefeated and No. 15 Marshall and won 20-0. They finished 2-3, but some insiders say Rice could be under the radar this season.

They return 17 starters, including 10 in defense. Owls return 89 letterers in total.

A starting quarterback has not been named, but one of those who took part in the battle was Luke McCaffrey, who used the transfer portal to get out of Nebraska.

He is the younger brother of Christian McCaffrey and is a double threat quarterback. He was a four-star rookie and Colorado’s No.1 player in high school.

He initially announced he was transferring to Louisville but switched to Rice without mentioning academics (his brother played at Stanford).

If he’s not the starter, whoever beats him was better. But if he doesn’t start, he’ll probably play.

Arkansas are favored by nearly 20 points, but the Razorbacks have several key players hobbled. No one knows if they will be available on Saturday.

In the old days, coaches would try to push opponents off by saying the starters were missing, but it was visible on Sam Pittman’s face when he talked about having too many guys in (non-contact) green jerseys that he was seriously concerned. .

The heat – and it’ll be hotter than a barbecue in Phoenix – won’t be a factor for the owls. It’s not much hotter and more humid than in Houston.

The game isn’t sold out, but there will be a hearty crowd, most of whom missed out on last season due to seat restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rice will be aggressive, especially in defense, and will try to reach Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson and shake him up a bit.

The Owls won’t be looking ahead, although their next two games will also be against former SWC opponents and possibly their two biggest rivals, Houston and Texas.

There’s no doubt they’re having a rough start, but expect the Owls to be ready when they start playing at the US Conference.

Rice is a great school in a big city. While football isn’t an afterthought, it’s never been called a football factory, and the game against Arkansas likely won’t be reported in the Houston Chronicle.

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