Granted the teams are a combined 1-6, and statistically speaking they have two of the worst defenses in all of FBS college football. But turn that frown upside down Houston residents. There are plenty of compelling reasons to make a trip to Reliant Stadium or at least catch the Bayou Bucket on TV Saturday (2:30 p.m., FSN). Here are five of them:
1. It’s going to be a shootout!
Both teams have above-average offenses that will look even better when going against well below-average defenses.
Rice scored 51 points and totaled 647 yards, the fifth most in school history, in a double overtime loss to Marshall Saturday. The Owls can move the ball in a variety of ways, as they topped 300 yards rushing and passing against the Herd.
UH ranks sixth in the FBS with an average of 346.7 passing yards per contest. Quarterback David Piland is fourth nationally in total offense (375 yards). For the season, Piland has completed 98 of 181 (54 percent) for 1,040 yards.
2. The Bucket gets the NFL treatment at Reliant Stadium
Houston owns a 27-11 lead in the all-time series, but of those 38 games, only one has been played at a neutral site. The game will be played at the Houston Texans home this season and in 2013.
While some college football rivalries have suffered by moving to neutral NFL settings (Kansas vs. Missouri was a recent example), there is something to be said for having fans of both schools pile into the same venue. It can make for a festive atmosphere during tailgating and the game.
Playing in an NFL stadium also can be exciting for the players, cheerleaders and band members, especially those from South Texas who grew up following the Texans.
3. UH has to get a win sometimes, right?
One would think so. Most preseason predictions had the Cougars taking a few steps back following the departure of coach Kevin Sumlin and the loss of several key players from last year’s 13-1 team. But a stunning loss to Texas State 30-13 has been followed by losses to Louisiana Tech (56-49) and UCLA (37-6).
The good news is Houston is unbeaten in Conference USA games (0-0) so in one sense the board is wiped clean. Of course the board will get thrown to the ground in disgust if UH can’t play better defense. Houston is 117th in the country in scoring defense, 107th in pass defense and 113th in run defense. Rice, by the way, is 120th in scoring defense.
4. It is a chance to see the improved Taylor McHargue, or the untested Driphus Jackson
Aside from winning a Big 12 road game (at Kansas on Sept. 8), arguably the biggest story of the Rice season has been the improved quarterback play of Taylor McHargue. The junior quarterback accounted for 467 yards and four touchdowns in the Marshall game. He was named C-USA offense player of the week despite missing the end of the game.
McHargue injured his non-throwing shoulder diving for the end zone on a run late in regulation. Coach David Bailiff said he is day-to-day, so there will be late week drama over whether he can play Saturday. If not, redshirt freshman Driphus Jackson gets the call. Better known for his running ability, fans may get to see what the future of Rice football holds if Jackson gets the nod.
5. It’s still about bragging rights.
“It’s a big deal; a lot rides on the game in this city,” Piland said. “It’s a big deal for them and for us.”
And these people, too.