The college football season ended last week, and it's safe to say that the season didn't exactly go as Rice (6-6) and the University of Houston (5-7) wanted. For Rice, things went a bit better. For the Cougars, things went a lot worse. So here are five things we learned about the Owls and Cougars this season.
5. Rice Beating Rice: Owls head coach David Bailiff and his players like to talk about there being nobody that can beat the team but for themselves. And this past season emphasized that point. The Owls were competitive in just about every game they played, but lost time and time again because of stupid penalties, mental errors, an inability to execute, and a failure to make tackles.
Who knows what happens if Rice makes a few first quarter tackles in the loss against UCLA. There's no way the Owls should have lost to Memphis, one of the worst teams in college football. The Owls led Tulsa for nearly the entire game, only to see an inability to score once in the red zone, a missed field goal late in the fourth quarter, and a collapsing defense lead to a loss. Mistakes nearly led to a loss against Tulane. Yeah, the season was really ugly at times.
4. Never Enough Depth: Before the season, Bailiff stated that this Rice team had more depth than any of his previous teams. Then the injuries started. Players were shuffled in and out of the defensive line because of injuries, which meant problems for the entire defense. Quarterback Taylor McHargue's injury late in the Marshal game probably cost the Owls that game, and definitely hurt them in the loss to Houston the next week. There were injuries to the receiving corps and the backfield.
3. Future Uncertainty: The Owls are remaining in Conference USA. But what exactly is going to become of C-USA? The Cougars, Memphis, SMU, UCF, Tulane, and ECU are departing for the Big East which is turning into Conference USA 2.0. Conference USA has resorted to raiding the Sun Belt Conference, and the conference, which was pretty mediocre to begin with, is on its way to huge laughingstock status when the 2013 football season begins. The Owls will have a large returning class of players, though, so that might be for the best as the competition promises to be worse than normal, though it's hard to believe that there could be any football teams worse than the departing Tulane and UAB.
2. Rice Fight, Never Die: The Owls were 1-5 at the halfway point of the season. I admit that I thought the Owls were done for and I gave up on their season, as I'm sure did many fans. But the coaching staff and players didn't quit though it would have been easy for them to do so, too. Instead the team went out and played its best football of the season, winning five of their last six games to finish with a 6-6 record and earn bowl eligibility.
1. Holy Crap, Rice Is Going Bowling: The Owls won't know until tomorrow afternoon just which bowl game they'll be playing in - either the New Orleans Bowl on December 22 or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on December 29 - but somehow the Owls got hot at just the right time and now they're going to a bowl. Who would've ever seen that coming?
5. Quarterback Carousel: It's pretty evident that David Piland is not the answer at quarterback for the Cougars, and that head coach Tony Levine will have to find someone else to replace Case Keenum. That could be incoming recruit John O'Korn, or maybe some juco transfer, or someone already on the roster. But it needs to be remembered that it was Blake Joseph who was supposed to replaced Kevin Kolb as the UH quarterback, not Case Keenum, and we all know how that turned out.
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4. Home Not So Sweet Home: The Cougars were supposed to waltz to a bowl game this season. Sure, Kevin Sumlin departed for Texas A&M. And sure Case Keenum was gone. But the Cougars had seven games at Robertson Stadium this season, and one game at Reliant Stadium. So when a team has eight games with no travel, they should be able to make a bowl game. Instead the Cougars lost three of their games at Robertson, and the "great" Cougar home field advantage disappeared as the fans decided to stay home.
3. Uncertain Future: Does anyone know for sure where the Cougars will be playing home games next season? They're supposedly playing at Reliant Stadium, but there's still no lease - the Rice game will be played there, however. How about Rice Stadium? Or BBVA Compass Stadium, which was the rumor I heard coming to life last weekend? One would think this situation would have been settled already. It's not like the Cougars just suddenly last week decided to demolish Robertson Stadium.
2. The Big Least: The Big East, the supposed savior conference for the Cougars, is imploding quicker than C-USA. In fact, the Big East now more closely resembles C-USA than C-USA does. Schools are leaving, schools are entering. There are still rumors that Boise State and San Diego State are trying to depart, and it sounds as if Cincinnati and UConn will depart at the first good offer. And supposedly the basketball-only members of the conference have the power to dissolve the conference.
1. On Second Thought: As bad as this past season seemed for the Cougars, it could have been worse. The Cougars lost in the C-USA title game last season, blowing the chance at a BCS Bowl, to Southern Miss. And like UH, Southern Miss's head coach departed for greener pastures and the football program is falling part. But while UH fans were treated to a 5-7 disaster of a season, Southern Miss, a year after going 12-2, went 0-12 and fired head coach Ellis Johnson after just one season. So maybe things weren't so bad after all.