Rice football has finished inside the top eight in the AP Poll three times in school history and inside the Top 25 nine times. Will they return to the polls any time soon?
When people discuss the ceiling for Rice football they often revert to lamenting the struggles the program has gone through in recent memory. It’s true, the 1-win campaign from a year ago was tough to stomach, but Rice football has put together several memorable campaigns, highlighted by three seasons in which the Owls finished inside the top eight of the AP Poll.
Rice landed right on the edge in 1946, finishing at No. 10 before breaking through a few years later. The incredible 1949 season prompted the construction of Rice Stadium in 1950 and has been recognized as the most successful team in school history. Rice football achieved a program-best No. 5 ranking that season, but it wasn’t long before Jess Neely has the Owls back near the top of the college football mountain.
After hovering around .500 for three years, Neely pushed the Owls back to No. 6 in the nation in 1953, capping off the year with yet another Cotton Bowl win. The 9-2 record marked the fourth time in school history that the Owls had won as many games, falling just shy of the Owls’ 10-win 1949 season.
Once more, after a three-season break from the national stage, Neely’s 1957 campaign broke into the upper echelon of the sport. That squad finished 7-4 with a loss in the Cotton Bowl. It also marked the last time that Rice would finish in the top 10 and the second-to-last time that the Owls would be ranked in the final AP Poll at all.
Outside of a 7-4 season that pushed the Owls as high as No. 7 before finishing at No. 17, Rice hasn’t come that close to finishing as a ranked squad. 10-win seasons in 2008 and 2013 both put the Owls to the edge, but untimely losses (including a Liberty Bowl loss following the 2013 campaign) kept the Owls on the outside looking in.
A Top 10 ranking isn’t as farfetched as it might sound. UCF’s storybook run last season that ended in a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn vaulted the Knights into the No. 6 spot in the final polls. That came just four years removed from a Top 10 finish under George O’Leary. Ranked teams at Rice are still within reach, as is the Top 10 if the Owls can put all the pieces together at the same time.