During his “We choose to go the Moon” speech on Sept. 12, 1962, former United States President John F. Kennedy asked the crowd “Why does Rice play Texas?” and explained, “Because it’s hard.”
According to Head Coach David Bailiff, Kennedy was right.
“I think [Kennedy] summed it up,” Bailiff said. “It’s because it’s hard.”
On Saturday, Rice (1-0) will travel to Darrell K. Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin to take on the University of Texas, Austin (0-1). Despite the daunting challenge, senior running back Luke Turner said Rice is relishing the opportunity to go up against the Longhorns.
“It’s really exciting,” Turner said. “Not every game we get to play in is against a big opponent like Texas.”
Texas plays in the Big 12 Conference, one of the “Power Five” conferences. Texas’ football stadium holds over 100,000 fans, and its student body with 38,463 enrolled undergraduates dwarfs Rice’s student body with only 3,965 undergraduates. The Longhorns have won four national championships, most recently in 2005.
The last time Rice faced off against Texas was in 2011 when the Owls fell to the Longhorns 34-9. Though it has been four seasons since their last matchup, Rice and Texas have a long-standing rivalry. From 1914 to 1996, both schools belonged to the Southwest Athletic Conference. After playing against each other for the first time in 1914, Texas and Rice have faced off 93 times. Texas leads the all-time series 71-21-1. The last time Rice beat Texas was in 1994, and the Owls have fallen in all 12 games since then.
According to Bailiff, Rice needs to focus on itself rather than the stature of their opponent.
“We don’t really have to worry so much about them,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to worry about us, just play our game and be the best team that we can be this week.”
Going into Saturday’s game, Rice will try to maintain its momentum from a 56-16 win over Wagner College last weekend. The win was the first season-opening victory for the Owls since 2008.
The Longhorns, meanwhile, will try to rebound from a loss last week. Led by second-year Head Coach Charlie Strong, Texas fell to No. 11 Notre Dame 38-3. The Longhorns managed only 163 yards of offense in the defeat, passing for 106 yards and rushing for 60. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes led the passing offense, going 10 of 19 for 93 yards passing, and senior running back Jonathan Gray was the Longhorns’ leading rusher with 40 yards rushing on eight carries.
Despite Texas’s loss, Bailiff said Rice is not approaching the game any differently.
“When a team struggles like that, they’re going to turn around the next week,” Bailiff said. “You know those are proud young men, that’s a proud program and I really feel like we’re gonna see a very different University of Texas team.”
Texas has undergone significant roster turnover since last season, losing six starters from last year’s defense that allowed 23.8 points per game, the 32nd best in the country last year. Returning starters on defense include senior cornerback Duke Thomas, senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, junior nose tackle Hassan Ridgeway, junior safety Dylan Haines and sophomore safety Jason Hall.
Rice will be wearing special white helmets for the game in Austin. On the back, there is a circular black sticker emblazoned with the word “Froggy” in honor of legendary Rice player Froggy Williams. Williams, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the “unofficial historian” of Rice Athletics according to Bailiff, passed away this summer.
While stressing that the purpose of this game is to prepare for Conference USA play, Bailiff said he knows playing Texas means a lot to him and his team.
“This [game] is one you go into dreaming big,” Bailiff said. “We’re dreaming big right now.”
Rice will try to make those dreams come true Saturday night in Austin. Rice will matchup against Texas at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 and the game will be televised on the Longhorn Network.