HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- There was a point last season where it looked like Rice's football fortunes would end up like those of so many years past. The Owls were 1-5 - an overtime loss at home to Marshall among the setbacks - and a fourth-straight losing season seemed the inevitable conclusion.
Then the Rice players finally got fed up ... with themselves.
The Owls decided they were the only people who could dig themselves out of the morass and, since then, have been on a tear in Conference USA and they're taking that hot streak into Saturday's C-USA title game versus Marshall in Houston (noon, ESPN2).
The breaking point came in a 14-10 loss at Memphis, a team that finished 4-8 last year. Rice Coach David Bailiff stood before the team ready to shoulder his share of the blame for the defeat, as he had many times before. But his players already were accepting the culpability.
"The junior class that's now the senior class started to take responsibility and accountability," he said. "At that moment, we changed. We became self-policing. Instead of pointing fingers, they started looking at themselves. They started holding themselves accountable."
Senior quarterback Taylor McHargue remembers watching classmate Phillip Gaines stand up and challenge the rest of the team. The corner, who leads this year's team with four interceptions, said the time for making excuses was over.
"This was our legacy on the line and we weren't playing well," McHargue said. "We could change that if we wanted to, but we had to start with being accountable as individuals and as a team. Ever since then, honestly, the culture started to change."
The Owls lost just one more game in 2012, that to eventual conference champion Tulsa. They earned their first winning season and bowl victory since 2008 by beating Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. This year, they've won eight of their last nine games.
Their lone conference loss came, 28-16, at the hands of North Texas.