Preview: Rice to open football season Aug. 26 against Stanford in Sydney

The Rice Owls football team will open the 2017 season more than 8,500 miles away from Houston as the “home team” at Allianz Stadium when they face the Stanford Cardinal in the second annual Sydney Cup in Australia Aug. 27 (Aug. 26 in the United States).

Sydney Cup logoThe Owls closed last season losing on the road to Stanford 41-17, but before this back-to-back matchup, the teams hadn’t played each other since 1964.

The game in Sydney will mark the first football game Rice has played outside the United States in its more than 100-year history.

“When (Athletic Director) Joe Karlgaard first asked me about moving the game to Australia, I thought, ‘God, it’s going to be 125 degrees in Houston, which is a home-field advantage,'” said head football coach David Bailiff. “But then you get to thinking that it will be an incredible experience for these young men, not just to go play a football game but to go to a different continent, a different culture. With what they are going to learn when they are there, it’s worth moving a home game to do that.”

He jokingly added, “I would guess that our trip to Australia is probably the longest road trip in the history of the world, and then we have the shortest road trip in the history of the world: We’re going to Australia to play Stanford and then we load up the bus to play across town (5 miles) against the University of Houston.”

The Owls will depart Houston Aug. 20 on a more than three-hour flight to Los Angeles, where they will have a short layover before taking a 15-hour flight to Sydney. The team will lose a day and arrive in Australia Tuesday morning, Aug. 22.

“I’ve never traveled outside the country, so I’m really excited,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee. “I can’t wait to see what their culture is all about. I really want to see how they live and compare it with my own (way of life). I can’t wait to have this experience.”

To prepare for the early start to the season and the unusually long travel for their first game, the Owls opened summer camp a week early and have been preparing the student-athletes not only for football on the field but the long flight and the visit to a foreign country.

Last year the University of California beat the University of Hawaii in the first Sydney Cup 51-31. As part of his preparation for Sydney, Bailiff tapped former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes for some advice.

“Cal went last year, so I’ve been on the phone with Sonny Dykes to find out some of the mistakes that they made so that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes,” Bailiff said. “We know to get our guys compression pants. We have a walk and stretch schedule on the airplane because of the length of the trip.”

Head football trainer Brad Kimble said, “As far as hydration and that type of prep, we’re in our normal camp prep already. We’ll continue to practice the good habits that we encourage all of the time.

“As for the flight, it’s relatively natural to get dehydrated on a flight, so we’re preparing food packets and making sure they’ll have access to plenty of liquids on the flight,” he said. “Plus we’ll be monitoring them closely throughout the trip.”

The players, coaches and staff will be encouraged to get some sleep on the flight, especially the second half, because once they arrive in Sydney at 6:45 a.m. Aug. 22, they will have a full day of events in hopes of adjusting to the time difference as quickly as possible.

While in Sydney the Owls will attend a welcoming news conference, enjoy a dinner cruise, visit and tour the University of Sydney, meet with Australian media, visit a rugby training facility, visit a grammar school for a football skills demonstration and, of course, hold football practices.

“This is going to be an incredible opportunity for this football team,” Bailiff said. “Not only are we going play a football game, but we’ve teamed up with the University of Sydney. We’re going to spend a day with them after practice talking about the Australian educational system.”

Leading into the historic trip, the team received a crash course on what to expect during their six days in Sydney from Jae Cross, a former standout on the Australian women’s national basketball team who currently serves as the head women’s coach at University of St. Thomas in Houston. Cross previously served as an assistant coach at Rice for seven seasons. Watch a video of her visit here.

While the Owls are down under, stories, video and photography will be posted daily on Rice Athletics’ The R-blog, along with updates on Athletics’ social media sites Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

The football game, which will be at noon Aug. 27 in Sydney (9 p.m. CDT Aug. 26 in the United States), will be televised nationally on ESPN.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.