Rice trying to dig out from two-year swoon

Updated: October 15, 2003, 12:44 PM ET

HOUSTON -- It took the Rice Owls almost half a season to win their first game. Now, they feel they can win some more, maybe even challenge for the WAC championship.

"I think we do have a chance to win," center Ben Stevens said. "We lost our first (conference) game to Hawaii but we're definitely not out of it. Hawaii lost and we're definitely going to come back and we have a good schedule.

"Now we've got a run at it."

Mighty tall talk for a 1-4 team that had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat San Jose State Oct. 4, snapping a six-game losing streak that included the final two games of last season.

The Owls have a long way to go to challenge for the WAC title. They are in a two-year funk, trying to rebound from their best season under coach Ken Hatfield in 2001. That's the year they finished 8-4 and didn't get a bowl bid.

This year's team is very young and while Hatfield likes Stevens' enthusiasm, he sees a young team needing experience.

"We like the taste of victory, it's a lot better and with salsa on it too," Hatfield said. "I think the biggest thing it's done is give us confidence. Our team plays hard but almost 50 percent of our team is first and second year players.

"Next year we'll move up (and) about 75 percent will be third, fourth and fifth year players and the following year 90 percent of our team will be third, fourth and fifth year players."

Hatfield is hoping his team matures quickly enough to help out this season. They are 1-1 in WAC play. Boise State (5-1, 2-0) and Nevada (4-2, 2-0) are the current WAC leaders.

"When you have so many young guys you're counting this year, each game is important because that's one more game of experience and the quicker they learn to perform as experienced players," Hatfield said.

The Owls still have one of the best rushing offenses in the nation, running from Hatfield's spread option. Each of his last 17 teams have ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing offense.

They are ranked No. 6 going into Saturday's game at Rice Stadium against Navy, also a triple-option team. The Owls have had two weeks to prepare since beating San Jose State 28-24.

"It was definitely a confidence booster and then having an off week so we got to live on that win for a week," Stevens said. "Coming back this week we just have to come back hard and concentrate on where we're going."

The Owls trailed 24-14 before scoring twice in the final 5:15 of the game to capture their first victory. Hatfield saw some growth in the game.

"We're a team still on a growth spurt," he said. "We haven't gotten to where we'd like to be but with the younger players if we can continue to improve, we're going to be pretty good one day."

The Midshipmen and Rice both run versions of the triple option. Navy leads the nation in rushing with a per game average of 313.8 yards.

It should make for a quick game.

"Kickoff is at (2 p.m.) so you ought to be able to go to the movie by 3:15," Hatfield said. "It might be a short game."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index