Compared to the surroundings of their hated rival, Houston, the campus of Rice is like a little slice of “Oz,” and Owl fans know it. It’s a twelve minute drive from UH to Rice and the scenery changes from boarded up houses to old southern style oak tree lined streets.
Rice is an outstanding academic institution that tends to seem out of focus when it comes to their football program. Despite some recent bowl success, the Owls appeared doomed to roost among the average in Conference USA. Further evidence of this came on this night when Baylor came to town. Of the mere 23,000 fans that showed up, around half displayed green and yellow in support of their Bears. Rice fans were not very vocal. However, their team did not provide them with much to exercise their vocal cords. In fact, the only thing that appeared to stop the Baylor offense was a lightning delay early in the second quarter.
Just forty five minutes south of Nashville lies Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This is not the type of town that will be found in bold print on a map, but the passion for their Blue Raiders is well highlighted. Middle Tennessee State’s campus pops up in the middle of this sleepy town with the stadium being the focal point, as many southern schools are. Being in the Sun Belt, one might expect to find a dinky stadium that seats only a few willing fans. However, this double decker stadium is impressive and holds a congregation of very involved fans.
Homecoming at Middle Tennessee State did not provide a marquis game by any means with both teams edging the abyss of non-bowl eligibility. But, the game turned out to be a nail-biter as the Blue Raiders jumped out early and held onto a 24-21 victory.
I know fans are crazy in the south, but I have been holding onto a misconception that the extreme craziness was reserved for the Southeastern Conference…until I ran into a throng of Middle Tennessee State fans. The passion began to border hostility which certainly was amazing for fans cheering on a 2-4 team from the Sun Belt conference. Anyhow, the Blue Raiders took an early 14-0 lead with an interception return for a touchdown followed by a halfback pass for another score. From there on, Louisville took over…
Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was not exactly booming with excitement on this homecoming Saturday, but the fans came in good force on a beautiful day that really was meant for football. The early lead by Middle Tennessee State caught the crowd off-guard. But, it did not take long for the Cardinals to make a second half push and hold off the Blue Raiders 42-23.
While Louisville fans casually walked away from an expected victory, Blue Raider fans kept the fervor comin’. A late mess of poor calls by the referees had the fans in blue screaming, yelling, and taking it out on those clad in red. All of this from a team working out of a conference that earns only one bowl bid a year? If this were a MAC team like Western Michigan or Akron, there would a few groans and grunts, but not the outright southern inhospitality that was displayed on Saturday. Honestly, I was impressed and wished more of that same passion from lower echelon midwestern teams. Nevertheless, Cardinal fans went received a happy homecoming while turning a deaf ear to their neighbors from the south.
The Badgers clearly did not hear Marshall’s stampede into Camp Randall Stadium. The Thundering Herd charged out to an early 14-0 lead bringing those clad in green to their feet and shouted, “We Are Marshall,” much like the movie portrayed. But, it wouldn’t be long before Wisconsin would remind their guests of where they were and who they were playing.