HOUSTON (AP) — Remembering the details of Rice's previous outright conference championship is an exercise that would tax even the sharpest memory.
It came in 1957, with Rice clinching the Southwest Conference crown against Texas A&M and earning the subsequent berth to the Cotton Bowl. That seismic moment was relevant and worth revisiting, for it served as a vivid reminder of how long Owls supporters went without.
Rice ran roughshod over Marshall 41-24 in the Conference USA Championship Game on Saturday to claim its first C-USA title and end a drought enveloping three league affiliations and generations of languishing.
"We're proud to be Conference USA champs after a 57-year drought," said Rice coach David Bailiff. The Owls accepted a berth to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis following the victory. "Just to be outright champions, the amazing thing is this senior class showed us we can. There are new expectations around this football program."
The Owls (10-3) mostly relied on their bruising ground attack to subdue the Herd (9-4), with running backs Charles Ross and Luke Turner delivering via versatility. But their aerial attack was equally prolific, with Rice striking an offensive balance that kept Marshall on its heels.
Ross rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, upping his season total to 14 and matching the program single-season mark set by Trevor Cobb in 1991. Turner passed for two touchdowns to become the first non-quarterback to record multiple scoring passes in the C-USA Championship Game.
The Owls' defense was exceptional throughout, limiting the Herd to 371 yards and just 4.8 yards per play. Marshall averaged 53 points during the five-game winning streak it carried into its first C-USA Championship Game appearance, and it amassed 3,009 yards of total offense in November.
Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato passed for 265 yards and two scores but was limited in his ability to locate receivers. Rice cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan were responsible.
Marshall also labored running the football against the Owls' defensive front. That inability to maintain balance undermined goals of efficiency.