UH, Rice Football Schedules Offer Some Intrigue, But Will They Attract Fans?

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Lost amidst the hoopla of the upcoming NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament was the release on Tuesday of the football schedules of the Houston Cougars and the Rice Owls. And knowing Cougar fans the way I do, I'm sure they're already starting to form their excuses for failing to sell out the stadium for this upcoming season's games.

The Cougar home schedule doesn't feature a prestige name like Texas Tech, so there are fans who will claim they won't buy tickets for an inferior product. And the home schedule contains two Friday night games -- one currently scheduled for a 9:15 kickoff -- which means we'll hear the same old crap about an unsafe neighborhood. Finally, there's the old "the stadium sucks" excuse.

But overall, the Cougars are playing a schedule somewhat equal to last season's and which puts the Cougars in prime position for climbing, once again, high up into the national rankings.

The Cougar season kicks off on Saturday, September 4, when they host Texas State. That next Friday, on September 10, the Cougars host UTEP on national TV, appearing on one of the many ESPN networks, in a game set to kick-off at 9:15. The Cougars then travel to Los Angeles to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl on September 18.

The Bruins will be the first of three Automatic Bowl Qualifying teams that the Cougars face this season (they also faced three last season, and they won all three, and those three wins helped people to realized that the Cougars were for real.). The other two schools are Mississippi State, which visits Houston and Robertson Stadium on October 9 in a game in which Mississippi State will undoubtedly be seeking revenge for last season's loss. And the Cougars will close out the regular season by traveling to Lubbock to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 27.

If the rest of the season goes as planned, then a victory over Texas Tech could propel the Cougars high up in the rankings as bowl season nears.

The rest of the Cougar schedule includes hosting Tulane on September 25, visiting Rice on October 16, visiting SMU on October 23, going to Memphis on October 30, hosting UCF for a nationally televised Friday night game on November 5. They close out the season by hosting Tulsa on November 13, visiting Southern Mississippi on November 20, then heading out to Lubbock for the game with Texas Tech.

"We have two nationally televised games at Robertson Stadium which will show how competitive Conference USA is and give us some national exposure in the process," Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "Finally, we will be stepping out of conference to play opponents from the Big 12, PAC 10 and the SEC."

The Rice Owls will kick off the season in style as they face up against the Texas Longhorns at Reliant Stadium on September 4. The Owls won't even leave the state of Texas until October 23 as all seven games to start the season will be either at Rice Stadium or within the state.

Starting with Texas, the Owls will travel to North Texas on September 11, host Northwestern on September 18, host Baylor on September 25, travel to El Paso to take on UTEP on October 9, and host the Cougars on October 16. The Owls first game out of state will be on October 23 when the Owls play UCF in Orlando. After a week off, the Owls will travel to Tulsa, then head to New Orleans to take on Tulane on November 13. The Owls will close out the season by hosting ECU on November 20 and UAB on November 27.

There's a chance of some very good college football being played in the Houston area this upcoming season. While Rice will probably struggle, the games against Northwestern and Baylor should offer some entertainment, especially with Baylor coach Art Briles making his first return for a game in Houston since leaving the Cougars to take the Baylor job. And the Cougars are primed to jump into a state of national conscious not seen for a Cougar team since the Jack Pardee era.

"We are extremely excited about the upcoming season and the 2010 football season," UH Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said. "Our university and our football program will have the opportunity to showcase itself on national television versus two very good opponents. We think these two Friday night games have the opportunity to be terrific special events for our campus, the Houston community, and our fans."

Of course, for that to happen, the fans are actually going to have to show up for once.

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