By Ryan Haddox, www.armedforcesbowl.com
It’s not how you start, but how you finish. The phrase is applicable in life and even more so in football, and the 2012 Rice Owls proved it once again. Head Coach David Bailiff’s group stumbled out of the gate to start the campaign, posting a 1-5 record through the halfway point of the season. Fortunately, Rice righted the ship and closed strong down the stretch, finishing with four consecutive wins and five out of their last 6.
“A lot of what turned us around was using the experiences from early in the season where we were losing close football games, where we weren’t staying focused for four quarters, where all we needed to make was one play, and we started to find that play later in the year,” said Coach Bailiff at Tuesday’s press conference. “I think our team drew a line in the sand where we said ‘not anymore’.”
With the hot streak keying the turnaround, the Owls managed to become bowl eligible on the last day of the season with a win over UTEP, finding themselves in the 10th annual Armed Forces bowl against the Air Force Falcons. The bowl game is the second Rice has made since 2008, and only the fourth since 1961.
“This is the bowl game we wanted,” said Bailiff. “When you’re honoring our armed forces, we can’t do enough to say thank you for the men and women that go to work every day that allow guys like me to live my dream to coach in a bowl game. We are so honored to be a part of it.”
While Bailiff certainly recognized the excitement and honor that comes with being a part of the Armed Forces Bowl, Bailiff was quick to praise his opponent for the game. The Falcons come to Ft. Worth with a 6-6 record, but a couple close calls kept the record from creeping higher. In the second week of the season, Air Force took the then 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines down to the wire before losing narrowly by a score of 31-25.
“We get to play a great football team in the Air Force Academy,” said Bailiff, “that has had a lot of consistency over the years. We are thrilled, and we’re going to do our very best to compete on the field, and we look forward to a great football game.”
While Bailiff recognizes the task at hand of beating a quality opponent in a bowl game, he has done it before at Rice. In the 2008 Texas Bowl, Bailiff led the Owls to a victory over Western Michigan, Rice’s first bowl victory since 1954. Bailiff has already done his part to make history with the university and to turn the program around, and a win over Air Force on December 29th in the Armed Forces Bowl could help cement his legacy even further.