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The Rice Owls football program represents Rice University in the sport of American football. The team competes at the NCAA Division I FBS level and have competed in Conference USA's Western Division since 2005. Rice Stadium, built in 1950, hosts the Owls' home football games. Rice has the second-smallest undergraduate enrollment of any FBS member, ahead of only Tulsa.

Rice fielded its first football team in 1912, not long after opening its doors. Three years later, it joined the Southwest Conference as a charter member.

For the better part of half a century, Rice was a regional and national powerhouse. However, by the early 1960s, Rice found it increasingly difficult to field competitive teams. For most of its tenure in the SWC, it was one of only three private schools in the conference, and by far the smallest in terms of undergraduate enrollment. However, by the latter part of longtime coach Jess Neely's tenure, Rice found itself competing against schools ten times or more its size, and often had more freshmen than Rice had total undergraduates. From 1964 to 1991, Rice had only one overall winning season, and only finished as high as third in SWC play once.

Fred Goldsmith took over as head coach in 1989, and led the Owls to a 6-5 overall record and a tie for second place in 1992, their best finish in 28 years. However, a 61-34 loss to in-city rival Houston kept them out of their first bowl game in 31 years. Goldsmith left for Duke in 1993 and was succeeded by former Clemson coach Ken Hatfield, who tallied only three winning seasons in 12 years. While the Owls were bowl-eligible in those three years, they didn't receive bowl bids due to their small alumni and fan base.

Todd Graham became head coach in 2006, and led the Owls to their first bowl game in 35 years, the 2006 New Orleans Bowl. He left after only one year and was succeeded by David Bailiff, who took the Owls to three bowl games in 11 years, including their first 10-win seasons in half a century.

The Owls played in the eighteenth Cotton Bowl Classic against the Crimson Tide of Alabama. The game featured one of the most famous plays in college football history[2] when Rice's Dickey Moegle (later Maegle) burst free on a sweep play, and on his way down the sideline, was tackled by Tommy Lewis, who had come off the Alabama sideline without his helmet to tackle Moegle. Referee Cliff Shaw saw Lewis come off the bench and gave the Owls the 95 yard touchdown. Rice would win the game 28–6, with the only Crimson Tide score coming from Lewis. The yardage added to Moegle's 265 yards rushing, a Cotton Bowl Classic record that would stand until Tony Temple's effort in 2008. This would be the Owls' last bowl win until the 2008 Texas Bowl, a win which also secured the Owls their first 10-win season since 1949.[3]

Rice Stadium also hosted a speech by John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1962. In it, he used the Rice football team to challenge America to send a man to the moon.

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