This game features two teams that performed above expectations. In the case of Rice, it involves a team that performed far above expectations.
The preseason forecast at collegefootballpoll.com, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, had Rice going 3-9 while the Broncos were projected to finish 6-6.
Instead, the Owls rode one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks to a 9-3 season, including a 7-1 mark in Conference USA. Rice just missed an opportunity to play for the conference title with its 63-28 loss at Tulsa on October 4. The 9 wins in a season are the school’s most in a regular season since it went 10-1 in 1949.
This is Rice’s second bowl appearance in the last three seasons after being shut out of the bowl season from 1962-2005. The Owls have not won a bowl game since the 1953 Cotton Bowl.
Rice actually won its first four bowl games - three Cottons and one Orange between 1939 and 1953. The Owls have come up empty in their last four bowl trips.
Rice head coach David Bailiff will be experiencing his first bowl game as a head coach, but the fourth of his coaching career. He coached in the 2001 Galleryfurniture.com Bowl, 2002 Liberty Bowl and 2003 Fort Worth Bowl as an assistant at TCU. He led Texas State to the semifinals of the Division 1-AA playoffs in 2005 as the Bobcats head coach.
The Owls rank fifth in the nation in passing (327.8 yards per game), eighth in scoring (41.6) and 10th in total offense (472.3). Quarterback Chase Clement is second among active passers with 96 career touchdown passes and he has teamed with wide receiver Jarett Dillard to set an NCAA career record for most touchdown passes by a duo (50).
Dillard is the NCAA’s career leader with 59 touchdown receptions and is the Conference USA career record holder in receiving yards (4,052). Tight end James Casey is second in the nation with a conference record 104 receptions.
“The Broncos and Owls are two of the most exciting football teams in the nation,” Houston said in making the announcement. “I think that fans can look forward to another thrill-packed Texas Bowl game.”
Western Michigan also brings a 9-3 record into the game after finishing 2nd to Ball State in the MAC's tough Western Division.
The Broncos are still looking for their first bowl victory after going winless in their first three attempts. Like Rice, WMU is making its second bowl appearance in the last three years. Western Michigan lost the 2006 International Bowl to Cincinnati. Before that, Western Michigan's previous bowl appearances had come in the 1988 California Bowl and the 1961 Aviation Bowl in Dayton, Ohio.
WMU is led by quarterback Tim Hiller, who ranks 14th nationally with 294.1 total offense yards per game. Receiver Jamarko Simmons is third nationally with 8.17 receptions per game and Brandon West is sixth nationally with 167.6 all-purpose yards per game. Twelve Broncos earned all-MAC honors this season, three as members of the first team.