They will enter the Hawaii Bowl potentially fueled by a shameful performance.
No, not Fresno State, despite that 6-7 mark that makes the Bulldogs the only bowl team with a losing record or that most recent 28-14 loss at Boise State in the Mountain West Championship.
Instead, it’s Rice, drummed 76-31 by Louisiana Tech in the Nov. 29 regular-season finale, a defeat that cost the Owls (7-5) a chance to play in the Conference USA title game. Rice surrendered 41 unanswered and the third-most points in the program’s 102-year history.
“That’s one of the worst losses I’ve ever experienced playing football at any level,” junior quarterback Driphus Jackson said this week from Houston ahead of the team’s departure for Honolulu and a Dec. 24 matchup against Fresno State. “It’s going to take a while to forget that one. That’s going to light a fire.
“We want to go out and get a win against Fresno State and ride that momentum into the offseason and build on it. You’re only as good as your last game.”
Rice committed half as many turnovers as it had for an entire season, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble. The defense gave up 677 yards, including 408 passing at 18.5 yards per completion. There were 12 explosive plays of at least 20 yards, half of which went for touchdowns.
“There’s a proud bunch of men and they don’t like losing,” Rice coach David Bailiff said. “Sometimes that happens. Nobody likes it. It was one of those days we couldn’t do anything right. Got outcoached, outplayed, out-tackled, outhit. We need to bounce back from that.
“I would think we would come back strong.”
Rice already has shown an ability to rally in a season that ran somewhat parallel to Fresno State’s campaign.
Like the Bulldogs, Rice began the season as defending conference champions but started 0-3, falling 48-17 at Notre Dame and 38-10 at Texas A&M, then losing on a field goal as time expired in a 45-42 defeat against Old Dominion.
The Owls then reeled off six straight wins, though none against teams that finished above .500. After a 41-14 loss at Marshall, the Owls beat Texas-El Paso 31-13 — their only victory against a winning team this season.
Fresno State has two victories against teams with winning records in San Diego State (7-5) and Nevada (7-5). Unlike the Owls, the Bulldogs also have two head-scratching defeats after losing to UNLV (2-11) and Wyoming (4-8).
When it comes to the one common opponent, Rice beat Hawaii 28-14 in October and Fresno State won 28-21 in November.
“I think we’re two very evenly matched football teams,” Bailiff said. “Coach (Tim) DeRuyter has done a great job in Fresno in facing similar challenges. The thing for us was we made our message very constant: We’re a good football team, we’ve got playmakers, we’ve had a rough start; we’ll work through this. And it worked out for the most part.”
Rice will play in a third straight bowl for the first time. The Owls topped Air Force 33-14 in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl and lost 44-7 to Mississippi State in the 2013 Liberty. Before that, Rice hadn’t played in consecutive bowls since 1961-62.
The Owls are ranked 70th nationally in total offense (393.9 yards per game), 56th in rushing (170.3) and 65th in scoring (28.7). Defensively, the Owls are No. 64 in total defense (396.8), 47th in run defense (151.8) and 89th in points allowed (30.3).
And despite their blunders against Louisiana Tech, the Owls remain one of the best at limiting mistakes — tied for No. 6 with 12 turnovers (four fumbles and eight interceptions).
“It means a lot to be back in a bowl,” Jackson said. “It shows the character of the team. We have a ‘never say die’ attitude. Going to a bowl, it’s expected now. Winning a conference championship, it’s expected. We’re excited about it. We fell short of winning a conference championship, but we’re excited about another opportunity and going to Hawaii for our bowl.”
Olsen a freshman All-American
Fresno State true freshman Chad Olsen was named a Freshman All-American by Sporting News.
Olsen is the first Bulldog to be named a Freshman All-American since receiver Davante Adams in 2012. He is the first Fresno State tight end to receive an All-America honor of any kind since Craig Jones (honorable mention) in 1988.
The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Olsen has 12 receptions for 143 yards and four touchdowns while playing in all 13 games, four as a starter.
Olsen’s touchdown total is tied for second-most among tight ends on Fresno State’s single-season
JC transfer signs with Fresno State
Alan Wright, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound defensive back from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, has signed with Fresno State and will enroll for the spring semester.
Wright will have three years to complete his two remaining seasons of eligibility. The San Antonio native had 48 tackles with four pass breakups and one interception this past season and 36 tackles and two interceptions in 2013.