To college football fans and media members, looking at the list of bowl games in early December each year can be a rather impersonal exercise wherein we get lost in making snarky remarks about the sponsors or faux-lamenting the lack of intrigue in several of the matchups.
The truth of the matter is that every bowl has a backstory; we just don't know about it. Many teams are excited to go. Some are disappointed, having expected to go somewhere warmer/better/more prestigious. But each of the bowls matters to somebody.
Take the Rice Owls, for instance.
On the surface, at 15-3 over their last 18 games, having just won their first outright conference championship since 1957, the Rice Owls' gaining a berth in the Liberty Bowl would appear to be merely a reward for improved play carried over from late last season.
But as M.K. Bower wrote about in an outstanding piece this past Sunday on Culturemap, for the Rice Owls, the trip to Memphis on New Year's Eve is actually the culmination of several harrowing years of hard work and a lot of faith. Faith in head coach David Bailiff, faith in his plan, faith in each other.
Even after the 2008 season, led by future Houston Texan James Casey and All American Jarrett Dillard, a season that ended with a win in the Texas Bowl, people around the program knew the storm was coming. They knew that the crater born of Todd Graham leaving after one season would turn into a three-year sinkhole that would swallow the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons and the first eight games of the 2012 season.
Throughout the Owls' 2-6 start last season, David Bailiff came on our radio show weekly and would insist that he had a "pretty good football team," in spite of the record. On October 27 last season, the team's fortunes on the scoreboard began to match their head coach's assessment, as the Owls defeated Southern Miss 44-17.
One win became four straight wins, which begat a bowl win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Then 2013 came, and a 9-3 regular season begat Saturday, where this senior-laden unit, many of whom arrived on campus in 2009, finally closed the deal, winning the C-USA title in a rout at home against Marshall by a final score of 41-24, and securing a berth in the Liberty Bowl.
All they needed to do was accept the invitation, an endeavor the Rice athletics department caught on this awesome video:
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SHOW ME HOW
Okay, the best part of that video easily is the player (or players) off camera imploring coach Bailiff to "SAY YES, COACH! SAY YES!" Also, defensive back Malcolm Hill (number 2, @Dos_Adios on Twitter, if you need him) conducting an actual conversation with the bowl rep while he speaks to the whole team is hilarious as well.
So there you go. If you needed a reason to watch the Liberty Bowl (or pick a winner), just know that the Rice Owls are pretty happy to be going.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.