In lieu of March Madness and the lack of a bracket for the hardwood, we’ve put together one to determine the best Rice Football team in program history.
There have been many great Rice football teams throughout the years, but there can only be one champion. We’ve seeded the top 16 in a head-to-head bracket. Cast your votes on the form below. Voting closes daily at noon. We’ll be conducting one round of votes each day this week and crowning our champion on Friday. May the best team win!
1) 1949 vs 16) 2001
Led by Jess Neely, the 1949 team (10-1, 6-0 SWC) finished its season as Cotton Bowl Champions, beating No. 19 North Carolina to cap off the first 10-win season in program history. The Owls were voted No. 5 in the nation in the AP Poll, the highest finish in program history. Notable victories included: No. 10 SMU, No. 10 Texas and No. 9 Baylor.
Led by Ken Hatfield, the 2001 team (8-4, 5-3 WAC) started the season 6-1 with wins over rival Houston, Duke, Hawaii, Boise State, Navy and Nevada. Those were the June Jones days of the Rainbow Warriors and the beginnings of the Broncos’ dynasty.
2) 1953 vs 15) 2006
Led by Jess Neely, the 1953 team (9-2, 5-1 SWC) went on to finish No. 6 in the nation, routing Alabama in the Cotton Bowl 28-6. Dicky Meagle set a single-season school record, averaging 7.31 yards per attempt rushing. The Owls lone losses came by a combined 11 points. Their wins were louder. Rice beat No. 15 Florida, No. 17 Baylor, Texas and TCU.
Led by Todd Graham in his lone season in Houston, the 2006 team (7-6, 6-2 C-USA) got off to a painful 1-5 start. Then the Owls righted the ship, winning their last six regular season games including a double-overtime contest against Tulsa. Rice would as the runner-up in the C-USA West, an impressive lead from the inauspicious start.
3) 2013 vs 14) 1996
Led by David Bailiff, the 2013 team (10-4, 7-1 C-USA) won the Owls’ only Conference USA Championship, defeating Marshall in the title game. Taylor McHargue and Charles Ross paced the offense while Christian Covington patrolled the defensive side of the ball.
Led by Ken Hatfield, the 1996 team (7-4, 6-2 WAC) finished second in the Mountain Division. The highlight of the season was a 51-10 thumping of then No. 20 Utah with Mike Fouts at quarterback. That year three different Owls had 100 or more carries with Chad Nelson leading the team with 801 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
4) 2008 vs 13) 1961
Led by David Bailiff, the 2008 team (10-3, 7-1 C-USA) made a dramatic jump from Bailiff’s first Rice team in 2007. The 2008 Owls won seven more games, finishing tied for first place in the C-USA West and beating Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl. With Chase Clement at quarterback, the duo Jarett Dillard and James Casey was arguable among the best receiving combos in the nation.
Led by Jess Neely, the 1961 team (7-4, 5-2 SWC) boasts the program’s only trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl, then hosted at Rice Stadium. The Owls did not win the game, but they had a few other notable victories that season. including an upset of No. 5 LSU in their season opener.
5) 1946 vs 12) 2014
Led by Jess Neely, the 1946 team (9-2, 5-1 SWC) won the conference and finished the season No. 10 in the AP Poll. The Owls lost a 7-6 nailbiter to LSU on opening day before reeling off 9 victories in their final 10 games including an Orange Bowl win. Notable victories included: No. 3 Texas, No. 8 Tennessee.
Led by David Bailiff, the 2014 team (8-5, 5-3 C-USA) finished second in C-USA West despite an 0-3 start. The Owls rallied as soon as senior wideout Jordan Taylor re-entered the lineup. With Taylor on the field, Rice finished the season 7-2, highlighted by four separate 100-yard outings from Taylor.
6) 1937 vs 11) 1957
Led by Jimmy Kitts, the 1937 team (6-3-2, 4-1-1 SWC) won the Owls’ second SWC title in four seasons, rebounding from season opening losses to Oklahoma and LSU to finish the remainder of the year 6-1-2. Rice closed the season with a Cotton Bowl win over No. 16 Colorado. Notable victories included: No. 12 Auburn, No. 16 Arkansas.
Led by Jess Neely, the 1957 team (7-4, 5-1 SWC) won the SWC, riding All-American quarterback King Hill to one of the most exciting season finishes the home crowds at Rice Stadium have ever seen. Rice beat No. 12 Arkansas, No. 1 Texas A&M and Baylor in November to set up another trip to the Cotton Bowl.
7) 1934 vs 10) 1917
Led by Jimmy Kitts in his first season at the helm of the Owls, the 1934 team (9-1-1, 5-1 SWC) won the SWC for the first time in program history. Their seven-game winning streak is still tied for the third-best winning run in school history. Notable victories included: Purdue, SMU, Texas and Texas A&M.
Led by Phil Arbuckle, the first Rice football coach in program history, the 1917 team (7-1, 1-1 SWC) defeated Texas for the first time in school history and won their first seven games. The Owls’ tenacious defense allowed zero first downs against Austin College, still the fewest in school history.
8) 1919 vs 9) 1942
Led by Phil Arbuckle, the first Rice football coach in program history, the 1919 team (8-1, 3-1 SWC) marked the most victories the Owls had ever has in a single season. That mark would not be broken until 1934. Team captain Shirley Brick would become the first-ever Rice player selected to receive All-SWC honors.
Led by Jess Neely, the 1942 team (7-2-1, 4-1-1 SWC) finished second in the SWC, their highest conference finish since 1919. That season, the Owls celebrated victories over LSU, Arkansas, No. 18 TCU, Baylor and SMU. Their only loss to a Texas-based school came at home against No. 15 Texas in a close one, falling 12-7.
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