Rice Football is going bowling for the second season in a row as head coach Mike Bloomgren continues to elevate the program one step at a time.
When you look at the Rice football win totals in the five non-COVID seasons under head coach Mike Bloomgren (Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.) you see a pattern: ascent. Bloomgren never went backward. The gripe with his tenure as the Owls’ headman never had anything to do with direction, it was all about the speed of those steps.
It was that most recent step that meant the most, to qualify for a bowl game “the old fashioned way” as some would say, with six regular-season wins. It was the first time the program had done so since 2014 and officially made Blomgren only the third coach in program history to reach back-to-back bowl games — Rice has fielded a team since 1914, 110 seasons ago.
To get this far, flooded Bloomgren with memories of all sorts. “When I took this job, we had played Rice the year before in Sydney, Australia. I don’t want to take anything away from that team, but there were a lot of people in the national media and coaches that told me not to take this job because they could never go to a bowl again,” Bloomgren recalled.
He cited his own stubbornness, the patience of former AD Joe Karlgaard who allowed him to remain in his position despite no winning seasons in his first five years at South Main and his staff and players for fighting through what he referred to as “headwinds” of all different kinds.
“But this is so cool to be here at this moment with the administration we have in place, the alignment we have in place and the excitement. And when you have a board of trustees and a president and AD that are going to do everything they can to help a football program, let’s go.”
The Owls will find out exactly where they will be going a few days from now on the Sunday following conference championship weekend. Rice won’t be playing in that game, perhaps a goal for next year and beyond, but the Owls did play both teams (Tulane and SMU) within a score, the latter with a backup quarterback for the second half.
To the Rice football players and staff, the bowl game destination is less relevant. Getting to this mountain top was a significant step, the next one would be winning, regardless of locale or opponent.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” senior running back Juma Otoviano said after the win. “We started from the ground up, but [we’re] looking at back-to-back bowl games and expecting to win this one.”
So in an era of rapid reaction and fast-moving chairs, under the leadership of a new athletic director who did not hire him, Bloomgren and his staff have taken yet another step on their climb in a conference incredibly more challenging than the one they played in over the previous five seasons. And there’s still a chance to win one more game and make this season even more special than it has already become.
“It makes me really proud of these kids and these coaches because nobody’s ever blinked. Anybody who’s still in this building has just kept fighting for what they believe in for these kids. That’s what’s all about,” Bloomgren said. “This team is always been worth fighting for for me, so it’s really cool.”
And the job isn’t done just yet. Bloomgren and Rice can turn that six into a seven with a bowl victory, a feat that hasn’t happened by the team on South Main since 2014.
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