This is not the season the Rice Owls intended to have. The plan was to have a winning season. The plan was to go a bowl game. The plan was to be competitive. The plan wasn't to come into the last game of the season with a 3-8 record. The plan wasn't to hope for a win in the last game so as to use it for a springboard for next season.
But you know what they say about good intentions and best laid plans.
The Rice Owls haven't been a very good football team this season. They've been a team of self-destruction where little errors have turned into huge mistakes which have become embarrassing losses. There have been signs during the year, moments however slight, when the team has performed to expectations. When the offense didn't self-destruct. When the defense was able to make a big play.
Last week the Owls put together an entire game and played as close to perfection as they have played the entire season. The offense dismantled the East Carolina Pirates to the tune of 62-38. The running game worked to perfection. Tyler McHargue, returning from an injury that kept him out for most of the season, worked the offense to perfection, finding his tight end and primary receiver Vance McDonald time after time while Jeremy Eddington ran the wildcat better than Ronnie Brown and the Miami Dolphins have done in several seasons.
"That was an absolute fun day Saturday, as the head and coaches and team and trainers and equipment managers, we needed a day like that," head coach David Bailiff said on Monday. "It was absolutely great. It's a tribute to the type of young men that we have here that they hung together through the tough times and they just continue every Monday ready to go to work and work on their opponents. They've had great attitude all season."
This week sees the Owls ending the season against the UAB Blazers. The Blazers haven't been the most successful of football teams either this season, bringing a 4-7 record into the game. But unlike the Pirates who came into last week's game with the worst rushing defense in C-USA, the Blazers come in with a middle-of-the-road defense that does best when facing rushing teams.
This is also an emotional week for the Owls. Not only is this the final game of the season, this might also be the last week that some Owls will ever put on a uniform and play organized football.
"I'm excited to get to work and see what we can do in this last one," Bailiff said. "But it is the last week for some of these seniors. It's an emotional week. It's a week where their saddest moment in some of their lives will be when they pull that Rice Owl jersey off for the last time after the game Saturday."
And if the Owls play like they did last week, then Saturday will end up being pretty special to the seniors. It won't wipe out the stink of the season, but it will let them leave on a high. They'll leave feeling like a winner, even though they didn't make that bowl game.
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"When this season started we wanted to have a winning season," Bailiff said. "We wanted to go to a bowl game. I feel like I've let them down there because that's something we're not going to be able to accomplish. But I think individually - I know everyone of them's going to graduate. I know everyone of them is going to have a very productive life. There's going to be a lot of different opportunities coming their way. I'm just proud to call them my own."
Saturday will be it for the Rice Owls, and for the seniors. This will be their last chance to salvage some pride from an otherwise wasted season. The offense put on a dazzling display last week, and while the Blazers offer up a better defense than the Pirates, if the Owls come out firing on all cylinders, then maybe the seniors will have a nice ride off into the sunset.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
While I didn't do any heavy research into this matter, I do think it's fair to say that Rice might be the only college in the country that has the father of two of its players working as NFL head coaches. Receiver Klein Kubiak's father is Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, and safety Corey Frazier's father, Leslie Frazier, is the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings....Free safety Travis Bradshaw has been named to the second team Academic All-America team....and in a final travesty to the season, Rice punter Kyle Martens was not named as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award....Saturday's game is set for a 2:30 kickoff at Rice Stadium. It will not be televised, but the radio broadcast will once again be on 97.5 KFNC.