Can you feel the excitement in the air? That's the pulsating energy preparing for the crosstown rivalry football game between the Rice Owls and the University of Houston Cougars for the much-ballyhooed Bayou Bucket Classic.
Students and alumni at the winning school in Saturday's game, as everyone knows, get not only a year of bragging rights but preferential seating at Brasil.
Oh, if only any of that were true. The Rice-Houston rivalry exists, but it seems to elicit a collective "meh."
Rice has made the game their homecoming, which most schools traditionally reserve for a home game with a less-exciting (and easier to beat) opponent, and the football players certainly have a score to settle after UH massacred them 73-14 in the final game of the 2009 season. But if that's their motivation — there are stories of the Rice workout cards with the score and the UH logo printed on them — it seems more about avenging a bad beat than having it out for the crosstown team.
In fact, in a survey of all CultureMap staff who attended either university, exactly zero could name the victor or the score of any Rice-UH football game during their collective tenure.
The problem is that it's a mismatch, both in athletics and in school identity. True rivalries are standoffs between two equal powers, connected in some way that makes them competitive. Think Army-Navy, Alabama-Auburn, Stanford-Cal, even Harvard-Yale. They aren't just close geographically, they compete for students and are probably more alike than they are different — all the more reason to prove and reprove one's superiority.
Rice may want to beat UH, but they make shirts about beating Texas (they're big dreamers). Rice students don't pause for a moment in thinking they are the best school in Houston, and the more clueless ones have been known to confuse UH with TSU. When Houston students wear "Ruck Fice" shirts, Rice students just assume they can't spell — plus with a team that was nationally ranked for a brief time this season and most of last season, the Cougars have much bigger fish to fry than the hapless Owls.
And it's not just Rice and UH picking on the wrong teams. Texas Tech thinks Texas A&M is its rival, while A&M's deep inferiority complex only gives them the energy to talk about UT (OK, "TU") nonstop. Meanwhile Texas fans spend their season waiting to take on Oklahoma. It's a mess.
So Texas teams, I've decided to stop the madness and assign some rivals that make sense. Get your posters ready!
Rice: Tulane. With TCU and SMU already perfectly aligned to hate each other (it's kinda like when Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams start getting really bitchy in Mean Girls), there's no private school with Rice compatible sports left in Texas.
So why not cross state lines and hate Tulane? After all, Tulane kids think they are just so smart, and that New Orleans is just infinitely superior to Houston in every aspect except flood control. And maybe Tulane has forgotten the 2005 regional baseball championship victory that dashed Rice's hopes for a trip to the College World Series, but Rice hasn't.
Houston: UTEP. Houston has a sports program that's on the verge of national recognition. UTEP knows that feeling — the Miners hit that threshold many times throughout their history, but rarely broke through.
There's only room for one lovable underdog in big-time college Texas sports. Sure, Houston won this year's college football matchup by 30 points, but the Miners shocked the Cougars just last season and they are 5-1 overall.
Texas Tech: Baylor. Both schools are in isolated large towns and attract an overwhelmingly white, Republican student body. But both are also more complex than those statistics would suggest. Lubbock has the highest amount of churches per capita in the state, and some of the highest rates of STDs.
Baylor has an aggressively Baptist ethos and a sports culture that's led to NCAA investigations and even the murder of a basketball player by his teammate. Hey, at the very least the game could open with a prayer.
Texas-Texas A&M: Sorry, Longhorns. This is your more appropriate foil. Every Texan grows up picking a side — Are you a Texas fan or an A&M supporter?
If Texas represents the new Texas, with a fairly liberal (or at least diverse), urban vibe mirrored by the city of Austin, A&M is a haven for those proud to call themselves a little bit country. Both great schools, these rivals are two sides of the same coin, and must respect that by vowing to beat the other so badly that their future children will feel it.
Put the football game in Dallas or Houston — either city has a mix of alums from both schools. Keep the Thanksgiving night tradition if you want. Just admit you're each other's chief rival.
Editor's note: Do you love or loath Sarah Rufca's realignment of Texas college football rivalries? Vote for which current mismatched rivalry most needs to be scraped in our latest CulturePoll.