HATTIESBURG -- The bye week is over. The Southern Miss Golden Eagles took a little time off, watched other teams play football on Saturday, and now it's time to prepare for Saturday's game at Rice.
Southern Miss stands at 6-3 overall, eligible for a bowl, and 4-1 in Conference USA, only a half-game behind West Division leader Louisiana Tech.
So as USM coach Todd Monken said Monday, "Where we're at right now is where you want to be. I don't know how many teams in the country can say it's November and they have a chance to play for a championship. We control our own destiny, which is a great place to be. That's where you want to be and our players have earned that. So we're excited about the opportunity to go down and play at Rice."
The Eagles practiced only three days last week since they didn't have a game.
Even Monken said he plopped down in front of the television and watched a little football.
"Who needs days off when you do your hobby?" he asked. "I'm serious. If you can do your hobby every day of the week, how awesome is that? I get to coach football for a living, be at a great university, be around these great young men. My day off is I'm watching football. I'm thinking about our team. I'm thinking about going back in on Sunday. I get to do my hobby for a living. How cool is that?"
It's a lot cooler when your team wins enough games to become eligible to play in a bowl and is still in the running to win C-USA's West Division and the Conference USA championship. Especially if the team went 3-9 a year ago and 1-11 two years ago.
"You're just excited to get an opportunity right now," Monken said.
Rice is 4-5 overall and 2-3 in Conference USA. Last week, the Owls were upset 24-21 by UTEP at the Sun Bowl El Paso, Texas. UTEP kicked a field goal with 48 seconds remaining to win the game.
"You want to get to where the games matter," Monken said. "I think everybody hopes to get to November and then, OK, let's be playing their best football. Let's be to where these games make or break your season when it comes to winning a championship.
"We had a nice third quarter (of the season) where we won all three. That's where I hoped we would be, but I didn't know. You've got to go play the games, so now we get a chance to work this week and go against a good Rice team and see how far we've come."
Game time Saturday from Houston will be 2:30 p.m. It will be Rice's homecoming game. Rice has won 10 straight homecoming contests.
Saturday's game will be televised locally on WXXV-Fox.