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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

Football prepares for season-opening game at Texas

Courtesy Rice Athletics Graduate transfer JT Daniels takes a snap during the first scrimmage. Daniels and Owls hope for a win during their season opener against the University of Texas.

By Pavithr Goli     8/29/23 11:12pm

Football looks to kick off their new season this upcoming weekend when they travel to Austin to take on the University of Texas Longhorns, who are ranked No. 11 in the nation. A year of new beginnings, the Owls will play their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference after spending 18 years in Conference-USA. 

Despite going 5-8 last season, the 2022 Owls qualified for the postseason, a feat that they last achieved in 2014. Playing in the Lending Tree Bowl against the University of Southern Mississippi, the Owls ended their season on a sour note when they were defeated 38-24 by the Golden Eagles, their former conference foes. 

Head coach Mike Bloomgren’s five wins from last season were the most wins the Owls have had under his tenure. However, according to Bloomgren, this year’s squad has turned the page from last year and is very different than the other teams he has fielded during his tenure leading the football program. 

“It’s kind of like everyone’s new because, at the very least, they are a better version of themselves and have worked to change themselves,” Bloomgren said. “[There’s] a lot of newness, if you will, in this football program with a lot of experience, whether it is at this program with the Rice Owls or other programs around the nation.”

With all eyes focused on this weekend’s matchup against the Longhorns, one of the nation’s more historic and accomplished football programs, Bloomgren said he is unfazed by the bright lights that the team will experience on Saturday afternoon.

“We have an awesome opportunity this week heading to play the University of Texas,” Bloomgren said. “It’s a great challenge for our football team. We know how talented they are. But, that certainly doesn’t stop me from being eager to see our team take the field at [Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium] on Saturday and let the hard work that we put in show on the field.”

The last time these two teams met in 2021, the Longhorns shut out the Owls 58-0 in Austin. Bloomgren said that this time around, he is confident that the Owls’ fate will be different. 

“We’ve been preparing all offseason for them and I think physically and mentally, we are a stronger football team,” Bloomgren said. “At the end of the day, it is all about how we execute and how we perform. Now, what can we do in the third and fourth quarter to make sure that we steal that game?”

An important part of that execution for the Owls will lie in the hands of new starting quarterback JT Daniels, who transferred to Rice from the University of West Virginia after last season. Daniels’ move to Rice made national headlines during the offseason as the former five-star recruit has played for some of the best college football programs in the nation, including the University of South California and the University of Georgia. The first student-athlete to play in Austin against the Longhorns while representing three different college programs, Daniels said he is excited for this opportunity.

“It’s a great opportunity and it’s always fun,” Daniels said. “It’s a cool stadium and it gets loud on third downs and when you walk out, it goes crazy. When you are in the heat of the moment, though, it really doesn’t matter and you don’t really notice [the noise].”

Another key facet of the offense that will be showcased on Saturday afternoon is wide receiver Luke McCaffrey. McCaffrey, who had the second-most yards from scrimmage on the team last year, was voted as one of the seven team captains this year and said he looks forward to a big season after plenty of change during the offseason.

“I’m very excited for the season,” McCaffrey said. “We worked so hard during the offseason and this upcoming game is a reward for all of the hard work we put in the offseason. When you look across the roster, we have a lot of changes, but I think that the overall identity of the team is where we have seen the most growth.” 

On the defensive side of the ball, Bloomgren said he believes that the team is ready to handle tougher competition in the AAC with a number of veterans on the defense. 

“With our defense, we have a lot of experience returning as we head into the American [Athletic] Conference,” Bloomgren said. “We retained 62 percent of starters on our defense, forming a very experienced group.”

The Owls will kick off their season on national TV at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2 with the game broadcast on FOX. After facing off against the Longhorns, the Owls will return home to play in the Bayou Bucket when they host the University of Houston Cougars on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m., with the game being shown on NFL Network.

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