It’s been 56 years, but Rice Stadium on Saturday will again be the venue for a late season game that will decide a conference championship.
Rice is playing for its first outright conference title since 1957 when it hosts Marshall at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Conference USA Championship Game.
While the Rice victory over No. 1 Texas A&M in 1957 ranks as one of the special moments in university history, the Owls 1957 team still had some work to do to win the Southwest Conference.
But let’s start from the beginning. Texas A&M and Baylor were considered Southwest Conference favorites that year, followed by Arkansas and Rice
“Texas A&M, freed from bowl bans by the NCAA, is my favorite to repeat and play in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day,” wrote Herman Hickman in Sports Illustrated. “Despite the fact there were serious losses among middle linemen and linebackers, this may be a better squad than last year’s champions, particularly offensively. The Aggies are well-stocked at the vital quarterback position, with seniors Roddy Osborne and Jimmy Wright reinforced by a brilliant sophomore, Charles Milstead.”
Hickman also liked Baylor’s chances.
“Baylor impressed me against Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl last New Year’s Day more than any team I had seen all season,” Hickman wrote. “Playing against the single wing for the first time, these boys handled their defensive chores with the greatest of ease and moved the ball consistently against the Vols. Two lines are returning – both as big, strong and experienced as the two lines of 1956.”
Hickman astutely said Rice may be the surprise team of the conference.
“Its passing attack should be the best in the SWC, and its running game should be improved with more experience in the line. Both quarterbacks, Frank Ryan and King Hill, are returning. This combination completed 107 passes last season for a 55 percent average, and a sophomore, Larry Dueitt, is pushing these seniors for their jobs.”
Rice opened the season by winning at LSU 20-14 and defeating No. 17 Stanford 34-7. No. 5 Duke handed the Owls a 7-6 loss the next week. Rice also would later lose to another ACC foe, Clemson.
The Owls started Southwest play by winning 27-21 at SMU, whose quarterback that year was Don Meredith. Dandy Don went on to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys and become part of the first Monday Night Football broadcast team.
Rice lost at Texas 19-14 and then came the Clemson loss, meaning the Owls were just 3-3, 1-1. They also had fallen out of the rankings.
Coach Jess Neely rallied the troops and Rice downed No. 13 Arkansas 13-7 on Nov. 9. Then came the stunning win over No. 1 Texas A&M 7-6.
Rice shut out TCU 20-0 the following week. Thanksgiving was late that year, much it was in 2013. Herewas the top of the standings on Thanksgiving morning:
- Rice 4-1
- Texas A&M 4-1
- Texas 3-1-1
Later that day, unranked Texas went into College Station and pulled off a 9-7 upset.
Rice now knew they could play for the outright title and Cotton Bowl berth if they beat Baylor two days later. A loss gave the title to Texas.
The Bears (3-6-1) had failed to live up to the preseason expectations. But even though they hadn’t won an SWC game (they tied Texas), the locals were nervous, according to historians at the Rice History Center.
“There was a significant amount of handwringing in the press, though, as plenty of people pointed out that this could actually be a dangerous situation.”
Here’s a UP article about the game:
Rice Institute beat Baylor, 20-0, to win its fourth Southwest Conference crown and insure itself a Cotton Bowl berth against Navy today on three spectacular runs and two passes. It gave Rice a 7-3 season. Baylor held Rice to a scoreless first half. But in the second half, a: crowd of 43,000 persons was brought screaming to its feet by an 89-yard run by sophomore Larry Dueitt and an RO-yard scoring run by junior left half Bobby Williams. Dueitt s 89-yard romp with a Baylor kickoff from his own goal line to the Baylor 11 was followed by a scoring pass from quarterback King Hill that sent halfback Ken Williams over. Hill kicked the extra point.
Rice finished a half-game ahead of Texas, a full-game ahead of Texas A&M and Baylor remained winless in the SWC that season. The Owls played Navy in the Cotton Bowl, losing 20-7. They ended the year ranked No. 8 in the country.