The Rice Owls were full of talk before the season started about how they were going to a bowl game this season. Talk of how people were underestimating them. Of about how they would surprise people.
And the Owls are surprising people. Surprising people with how bad they're turning out to be.
The Owls lost 44-24 to UTEP on Saturday night to drop their record to 1-5 on the season. Rice looked competitive in their first game of the year, a loss to Texas. And they won their next game, holding on to defeat North Texas.
But in retrospect, seeing how crappy the Longhorns really are this year, and with North Texas being 1-5 on the season, it looks to be that those games were just exceptions for Rice and that, instead, the big losses the Owls have suffered the rest of the season are more indicative of their true nature.
The Owls started things as normal on Saturday night. They took the early lead, scoring on their first possession after QB Nick Fanuzzi found Vance McDonald on a four-yard TD pass. Then UTEP scored on their next possession, which led to that one thing Rice does better than everybody, self-destruct.
There was the safety by Fanuzzi after he intentionally grounded the ball while he was in the end zone. Then the Owls defense gave up a 90-yard drive for a TD. And a 71-yard drive. Then a 50-yard drive after a kick return to the 50, and by the half, the Owls were down 30-10.
The Owls offense, as usual, clicked at times. They're beginning to get Sam McGuffie incorporated into the offense, and he once again had over a 100 all-purpose yards, including 81 rushing yards on 18 rushes. And Fanuzzi got through the game without an interception and threw three TDs. But the truth of the matter is that the Owls lost again.
We'll probably hear the standard things at the media luncheon today. About how the team is close. About how it's a matter of one or two plays that lose the game because they're so competitive the rest of the game. There will be the discussion about messing up the little things which lead to the big play. They'll talk about having to finish plays, and about how they're close to breaking it all open.
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The thing is there's not much time left, though. The Owls have six games left in this season. And if this bowl game dream of theirs is going to happen then they're going to have to go off on a run, winning at least five of their next six games to even qualify for a bowl game. But by the look of the Owls these past several weeks, that's just not going to happen, even if they are in the Conference USA section of their schedule.
The UTEP Miners might now be 5-1 on the season, but losing to them puts the Owls on that same vaunted list as New Mexico, New Mexico State, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, and Memphis, which kind of leads one to think that UTEP has yet to defeat a legitimate football team this season.
The positive news for the Owls is that they have the Cougars coming in this week, and the Cougars are in disarray at the moment, searching for a new identity as they try to settle on a new quarterback. So if there's a time for Rice to face Houston, this coming weekend might just be that time. Of course, after the Cougars were embarrassed by Mississippi State on Saturday, the Owls might need to worry about the Cougars taking out their anger on Rice.
The good news for the Owls is that, even though they lost, they got to play in the Sun Bowl. The bad news is that they played in the Sun Bowl only because that's where UTEP plays home games. And the worse news for the Owls is that Saturday's game in the Sun Bowl was probably the closest the Owls will get to playing in a bowl game this season.