HOUSTON - The secret to Rice football s success this season may be easier than you initially thought.

We got here by leading the nation in chest bumps and high fives, head coach David Bailiff said.

Coach David Bailiff is always one to keep his team s spirits up, but it wasn t until they were 2-6 last season for the Owls to really start clicking, especially on the field.

We just kind of flipped the switch, quarterback Taylor McHargue said. We got the taste in our mouth of what it took to win those close games and it has never really been in doubt since.

Since that point, Rice is 14-3 in their last 17 games, their defense is ranked 19th in country and the confidence their playing with is at an all-time high.

You know, they always had a belief on what they wanted to be able to accomplish, Bailiff said. I think it s just a tribute to those young men who through the hard times, just continued to work.

The current group of 5th year seniors signed up after Rice won the Texas Bowl back in 2008 so this title shot has been several years in the making. Whether they get high praise or not, well, that s still to be determined.

I think it s something that we ll look back on and talk about how we were part of the turnaround, defensive end Tanner Leland said.

I d love to tell you that I got this unbelievable e-mail from former President Bush but it just didn t happen, Bailiff said with a laugh. I m waiting on it, President Bush if you re watching, send me an e-mail.

To put into perspective how big Saturday is this will be the first December home game Rice has hosted since 1985. It will also be the first time the Owls could win an outright football championship since 1957 when they were back in the Southwest Conference.

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