Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hoot, There It Is

With all due respect to Rutgers and Wake Forest, there is another outstanding turnaround taking place that has gone way under the radar. Deep in the heart of Texas--Houston to be exact. There, the Rice Owls under first year coach Todd Graham have reeled off 4 victories in a row (3 on the road) to even their record at 5-5. With two home games remaining against East Carolina and Southern Methodist, the Owls have a real chance at becoming bowl-eligible--a feat that two months ago would have seemed impossible. Here's a short list of the obstacles Graham faced in his first year at the helm.

1) Rice is the second smallest Division IA football school behind only the University of Tulsa.

2) In the past 2 decades, Rice has had exactly 5 winning seasons--a pair of 6-5 and 7-4 campaigns, and one 8-4 year in 2001. In that same time frame, they've won 3 or fewer games 7 times.

3) Under their former coach Ken Hatfield, Rice ran an option attack to compensate for their disparity in talent. Under Graham, the Owls have switched to a more traditional pass-oriented offense, something that usually takes a few seasons to integrate.

4) The Owls were 1-10 last season.

5) This season, the Owls non-conference slate included road games against Florida State and UCLA as well as a neutral (yeah right) site game against Texas. Not surprisingly, the Owls went 0-3 in those games lsing by an average of more than 34 points.

What is surprising is that the Owls are 4-2 in conference play and with two games still to go, they could finish in a tie for first in Conference USA's Western Division (Houston has the tiebreaker so they can't play in the title game). The Owl's probably aren't as good as their record since 3 of their last 4 wins have come by 6 points or fewer, but that's a small quibble. So let's take a moment and appreciate what Todd Graham has done and pull for the Owls to make their first bowl appearance since the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl.

And one last thing. You gotta love these Philadelphia Eagles lookalike helmets.

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