HOUSTON -

Pencils aren't the only things being sharpened on the eve of the school year at Rice. The Owls' football team has been working on their skills for weeks.

Defensive tackle Christian Covington is an anchor on the defense, but even the experienced junior has felt the pressure.

"It's been a grind," he said. "I can tell you that much. Coaches have been on us the whole training camp."

When Rice opens the season at Notre Dame on Aug. 30, the Owls will carry a title they haven't held in 56 years as conference champions.

Even after losing 19 redshirt seniors, Rice coach David Bailiff enters his eighth season as head coach with plenty of confidence. 

"I think these young men know what it takes to go to a bowl game and win championships," he said. "They come over here with their mind right, ready to go to work."

A second straight Conference USA title requires the Owls to make it out of their non-conference schedule alive and injury free.

Rice's first two road trips are at Notre Dame and Texas A&M.

"Two tough challenges right off the bat," senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor said. "But I think our biggest focus is to just get better week by week and we're obviously going to go in there and give them our best shot and try to win."

Quarterback Driphus Jackson is relishing at the opportunity of playing in arguably the most historic stadium college football at Notre Dame.

"I think it's a lot bigger than just the football team. It's good for the school, you know people don't think about it. We are two great academic institutions and for us to have the opportunity to go up to South Bend and play against these guys is fun."

If the Owls can survive the early onslaught of tough opponents, then the flock could be in store for a historic year. The last time Rice recorded three consecutive winning seasons dates back all the way to 1960.