On Bowl Season’s Opening Saturday, Rice and Southern Miss will travel to the Gulf Coast to play in the LendingTree Bowl. On a busy slate, this game is buried especially because these two schools with avian nicknames were Conference USA members together from 2005-2021, meeting every year since 2014. Interestingly enough, the series is tied at six before Saturday’s meeting.
While these schools are familiar with each other now, that’s only been the case recently. In 2000, Rice was still in the Western Athletic Conference after the fall of the Southwest Conference, while Southern Miss was in the four-year-old Conference USA. The year before, a new bowl entered the fray as Mobile, Alabama began its own bowl at venerable Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The bowl would match the second-place schools from Conference USA and the WAC.
Making it to Mobile in 2000, the bowl’s second year was Southern Miss, who went 7-4 with a 4-3 record in Conference USA and beat Alabama and Oklahoma State in non-conference play. While Rice had narrowly missed out on a bowl the prior year before, going 5-6 with one-score losses to UTEP and Texas, 2000 was a different story for the Owls.
Rice went 3-8 with wins over fellow three-win schools, Houston, SMU, and Hawaii. A meeting in the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl would have been the first-ever meeting between the two schools, but Southern Miss drew TCU instead. A meeting in the Mobile Alabama Bowl between the two future conference mates was not to be. The next year, the Mobile Alabama Bowl swapped their WAC tie-in for a partnership with the MAC.
22 years later, the landscape of college football has completely shifted. Rice will join the American next year, while Southern Miss left Conference USA after 25 years as a member of the Sun Belt before this season. Chaos in the last realignment cycle set off a chain of events for these schools to meet in Mobile as they could have in 2000.
Despite the limited history of the series, Rice and Southern Miss meeting in the LendingTree Bowl shows the ever-changing college football landscape. The Owls and Eagles went from potential bowl opponents to conference mates to actual bowl opponents. It is anyone's guess what context this matchup will have the next time they play.