Rice vs. UTEP
Fittingly, there appears there will be some level of chill in the air.
Even though each football season begins the in the legendary heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast, the conclusion of each season comes at time when thermometers return to the numbers reserved for running backs and the concept of layering clothes must be recalled.
Each year begins with the grind of long days of training camp and then in the blink of an eye, it is time to bid farewell to another senior class who will step on the turf of Rice Stadium one last time.
This class of 17 will take the field hoping to extend a streak they have inherited from the past eight senior classes, each of whom took a measure of pride in knowing they left the Rice Stadium on their last game day with a "W" on the board. That streak of wins has given Rice a 52-49-2 record in season finales (there were no home games in the 1912 season).
Saturday's opponent, UTEP, has been a familiar witness to the traditions of Senior Day, having played in the Owls home finale six times since 1997, including twice in the last three years. The two have also reserved most of their battles for November, with Saturday's being the 15th time in 20 meetings the two have met in the season's final full month.
There have been improbable rallies against UTEP, capped by a wild 28-point fourth quarter on Homecoming Day in 2007 when Chase Clement produced a school-record eight touchdowns and 498 yards of total offense against the Miners. There was a 30-29 win in 2009 that saw Tyler Smith rush for 127 yards against the same team he had severely injured a knee against two years earlier.
There was Nick Fanuzzi throwing for 405 yards on Homecoming in 2011 as the Owls rebounded from a 73-34 loss to Houston the week before with a 41-37 win. And there was the moment when Jeremy Eddington blew past the retiring Mike Price along the UTEP sideline to answer a Miner touchdown with the first kickoff return by an Owl since Madonna's heyday to cap an run to a bowl game and set of a joyous response to the question as to if there were too many bowl games.
This class as well will always be remembered as members of the cast who authored this viral postgame reaction to a bowl bid.
Senior Day dramatics have not been the sole responsibility of the Miners. There was the shootout win over Houston in 2008, a game that for the first time saw both schools take the field bowl eligible. There was the video game number piled up by Rice and Tulsa, nearly 1,300 yards in a 48-43 loss in 2007, the last Senior Day loss for the Owls.
And there was the sunny day in 2006 when Rice and SMU found themselves locked in an improbably winner-take-all battle for a bowl game.
The 2006 Owls that entered the year with a new coach and little expectations coming off a 1-10 season. But from the first snap of an opening 31-30 loss to Houston, it was apparent this team had buried the past, ignored the sparse expectations and was only interested in what transpired on the field. They endured the physical toll of an insane opening run of games that featured Houston, UCLA, Texas and Florida State in successive weeks as well as the unimaginable shock and pain of the passing of freshman Dale Lloyd.
They drew closer, sealing off any outside forces seeking to deter their vision and being to win game sin the most improbable of ways. They won their last six, twice with three seconds left and once on the last play of overtime. Ten years ago on Friday, Clark Fangmeier's field goal with three seconds left beat East Carolina to set up a Senior Day showdown the following week against SMU, with a bowl berth the winner.
The Owls sent that Senior Day crowd into a frenzy with a dramatic 31-27 win to earn a special place in Rice history and fittingly members of that team will return for this Senior Day to be recognized on the anniversary of their signature moment.
Senior day will be a day to honor the accomplishments of a group of 18 individuals who will take with them memories of some of Rice's greatest success in recent times. Some will make the walk in ceremonies in street clothes as injuries brought the playing time to a premature end. Two, Justin Carter and David Wilganowski, will do so having never played a down, but have steadfastly contributed to their team in other roles.
While all Rice graduates proudly leave South Main with their school ring, this group carry an impressive set of additional hardware thanks to including three bowls, two bowl championships and the school's first conference title in 56 years.
In terms of conference titles, Jess Neely stands alone as the Rice head coach who captured more conference crowns than any other and Saturday marks the anniversary of his own final Senior Day . On this date in 1966, Neely coached his final home game at Rice Stadium and saw his Owls present him with the last of his 144 wins on South Main with a 21-10 win over TCU.
During his career, the saying was that "November was for Neely" and the Hall of Fame coach certainly delivered on this, posting a 74-53-3 record at Rice.
In recent times, the modern version of the Owls have had an uncanny ability to fashion repeated success at home in the season's last month. They have won 16 of their last 18 games in November or later.
Saturday will arrive with a chill in the air and with the knowledge that for most, their football careers have reached the penultimate act with a road trip to Stanford remaining on the itinerary.
Saturday affords a chance to add another milestone to their legacy, pass the baton to the next generation of Owls and take the lasting memory of a final walk of victory on to the next chapter of their lives.
A winning walk on a chilly Houston November day is the ending they all seek.