John F. Kennedy's iconic words on the challenge of space travel still reverberate into the 21st Century. "Why does Rice play Texas at NRG Stadium in a blatantly obvious cash grab?"
I may have the wrong quote, but the question is worth asking. While Texas playing at an NFL stadium likely helped recruiting somewhat, the Longhorn's occasional SWC reunions with Rice were likely zero-sum occasions.
Texas fans saw the Rice games as a mere formality, a return to nostalgia. Texas has won 16 straight against Rice and 44 of the last 46 meetings. While the first game against Rice at NRG Stadium (then called Reliant Stadium) in 2003 may have been a nice novelty, the excitement soon wore off with every successive meeting there. The table below breaks down the attendance of Texas-Rice games at NRG Stadium.
So this brings us to our big question. Could Texas ever play Sam Houston State at NRG Stadium? Sam Houston State's first two FBS games at NRG Stadium show different approaches to replacing the Battle of the Piney Woods. This year, they play Air Force, a national brand in the Group of Five, followed by an old conference rival in Texas State for the 2024 game. Both games have attractive draws, but the Bearkats landing Texas would be the "Holy Grail" of opponents for Sam Houston State.
While it seems peculiar, there is reason to believe Texas at Sam Houston at NRG Stadium is possible. Texas kept playing Rice at NRG Stadium through the years, even though the attendance figures made it seem like a hardly profitable venture. The rarity of a one-off game would surely bring fair-weather Sam Houston State fans to Houston along with loyal Longhorns fans.
However, scheduling trends may point to the contrary for this possibility. UTSA plays in the 64,000-seat Alamodome, yet Texas will not visit the dome for any of their three future meetings against UTSA. This is in addition to last season's meeting at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. While it appears that Texas is done playing Group of Five schools away from home, it is more likely that the Longhorns feel threatened by the rising Roadrunners.
As a result, they are unwilling to play UTSA on the road in a high-risk, low-reward game as opposed to playing a long-suffering Rice program at NRG Stadium. With Sam Houston State, no such sentiment exists yet, making a meeting at NRG Stadium between the two more likely.
A game against Texas at "The House That Andre Johnson Built" has unmistakable worth to the Sam Houston State program. While it seems like a long shot, there are reasons to believe it can happen in the future.