The Bayou Bucket Classic is the name given to the Houston–Rice football rivalry. It is an annual college football game between rivals, the Houston Cougars and the Rice Owls, as a part of the Houston–Rice rivalry. The name of the game is a reference to one of Houston's popular nicknames as the Bayou City. Although a series between the two teams has existed since 1971, an award for the winner of each meeting was not official until 1974. The series signifies a college and crosstown rivalry.
From 1999 to 2001 Southwestern Bell was the title sponsor for the series, and it was branded as the Southwestern Bell Bayou Bucket Classic. From 2002 to 2005, Houston-based Administaff sponsored the series, and it was branded as the Administaff Bayou Bucket Classic. During the 1996 to 1998 football seasons, the series was on hiatus while the teams realigned themselves with other conferences after the demise of the Southwest Conference. The game for the Bayou Bucket in 1995 was the final game in the history of Southwest Conference football.
In 1941, Johnny Goyen, then sports editor for The Cougar, and Jack Valenti, president of the sophomore class at the University of Houston, began a petition for an official intercollegiate football team at the university. The next year, the two called a student body meeting to organize another petition. This petition's purpose was to challenge Rice Institute (later known as Rice University) to a football game. The Rice Owls were an established program, having played since 1919 as a member of the Southwest Conference.
During the spring training for the first team, Goyen and Valenti's petition was finally answered, as Houston coach Jewell Wallace arranged a small practice game between Rice and Houston. The meeting was to be at Rice. When the team arrived at the field in their practice uniforms, they realized that the game was much more serious. Officials were there, and the stadium was full of spectators. With an attendance of 11,000, the game ended with Rice easily beating the Houston Cougars. It wouldn't be until 1971 that the Cougars and Owls competed again.
In the Summer of 1953, Hugh Roy Cullen (then chairman of the University of Houston Board of Regents) met with George R. Brown (then president of the Rice University Board of Governors), to sign a new contract for Houston to use Rice Stadium. When asked if there was a discussion about the two universities possibly competing against each other in football, Brown said, "Not since 1950. We discussed it informally then." Cullen said, "They seem to think it would create too much of a rivalry. Our boys out at UH are working boys. They don't have time to fight."
Although Houston was accepted into the Southwest Conference for non-revenue sports during the 1971 season, the Cougars didn't join for football competition until 1976. Despite this, the first official game between the teams was played in 1971-with Houston winning, 23-21. In 1974, the tradition was further solidified by the official naming of the series as the "Bayou Bucket Classic". The 1995 meeting of the teams was the last football game of the Southwest Conference before it was disbanded.
Although on hiatus after the demise of the SWC, the rivalry was renewed in 1999. In 2005, the rivalry gained back significance after the Owls joined Conference USA in which Houston was a charter member. The game was announced to be played at Houston's Reliant Stadium for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The 2014 season marked the first time since 1998 that the two football programs did not compete.
The rivalry has been renewed for two home-and-home series for the 2017 and 2018 football seasons, and again for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.