Countdown Clock Strikes Zero as Owls Face WKU

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 277 days ago, Luke Turner bade a tearful goodbye to his college career in an emotional press conference less than an hour after Rice had closed out a frustrating 5-7 campaign with a 27-7 win over Charlotte.   

The video of Turner's gripping tribute to head coach David Bailiff quickly went viral and provided a level of national coverage that he and the Owls had generated with their successes over the previous three years.  

Over that stretch, many of these same Owls had clawed their way to three consecutive bowl games, winning two, and capturing Rice's first outright conference championship in 56 years.  They set standards for most wins in two (18) and three years (25).

But that trend upward took a detour south in 2015.

The win over the 49ers on that gloomy November Saturday allowed Rice's winningest group of seniors to walk out of Rice Stadium with one more victory and tie the most over four years (30), but their teammates left that night with a gnawing sense of what might have been.  Close road losses at UTEP and UTSA over the final month were filled with potential momentum swings that never materialized and the Owls were forced to spend the bowl season in front of their TVs rather than practicing and playing another game.

It set the tone for an off season filled with recuperation and rededication.  A determined group of Owls slashed through winter workouts, spring practice and summer conditioning with a determined demeanor focused on not allowing a season's misstep to define or devalue the successes that had preceded it.

In August, a much-anticipated upgrade to facilities became a reality when the $33 million Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center opened its doors at the start of fall training camp, symbolically enhancing the overall upward trend of the program.

A spirited 25 days of practice followed, each day drawing the Owls closer to the first chance to reclaim the momentum that had characterized so much of their careers on South Main.

And now it's Game Day, or more accurately Game Night as the Owls will take the field against the defending C-USA Champions in WKU, which defeated the Owls 49-10 at Rice Stadium last year.  CBS Sports Network will carry the game nationally, the first of three consecutive national television appearances for the Owls.

After a road game next weekend at Army, the Owls will take the final wraps off their new home with the first home game of the year as they host a formerly familiar face in the Baylor Bears, Rice's traditional season-closing opponent for so many Southwest Conference campaigns.  

The waiting is over, the payoff is here, the season begins.  It's time to keep score and add up statistics.

Twelve dates on the calendar, twelve chances to step on the field and define what it means to be a Rice Owl solely determined and defined by the current group of players. Twelve chances create additional playing opportunities beyond the regular season.

After 277 days, it's time for a new season to take the stage.  


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