David Bailiff is entering his fifth year at Rice, and since Todd Graham left in 2006, these Owls have been fairly inconsistent. They went 3-9, 10-3, 2-10 and 4-8 the past four seasons.
In 2006, the Owls did end their bowl drought that lasted 46 years. Rice is far from a prestigious program because it has just gone to two bowl games since 1961.
The team got thumped by Troy in the 2006 New Orleans Bowl and then won the Texas Bowl in 2008 against Western Michigan 38-14. Their stars, who are now gone from the 2008 bowl team, were wide receiver Jarrett Dillard and tight end James Casey, who are both in the NFL.
The lone star on this current squad is former Michigan running back Sam McGuffie. At 6 foot and 200 pounds McGuffie is one of the fastest players in C-USA and among the tops in all the land. He led the team in rushing (883) and in catches (39). He also had 384 yards receiving and combined for nine touchdowns.
He is expected to at least match his Second Team All-C-USA from a season ago because he may be the best of the best in 2011.
His quarterback is up for grabs because it will either be Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi or Taylor McHargue. McHargue came in and got the job done toward the end of the season for an injured Fanuzzi, which may give him the edge.
The wide receiver’s unit is fairly weak because their best target is tight end Luke Willson (33 catches, 425 yards, three touchdowns). The offensive line is in the middle of the pack in terms of talent, but with four starters back, you would think they would be better or more productive at least.
Right guard Davon Allen and left tackle Jake Hicks are two horses who should help improve the rushing attack that ranked 51st a season ago, averaging 159 yards per game.
Overall, the offense was ranked 63rd averaging 375 yards per game, which, in all honesty, is not too shabby.
Unfortunately, the defensive struggles have never gone away. The Owls were 107th in the nation, giving up an average of 448 yards per game. They were second to last behind only Tulsa for the worst pass defense in the nation, allowing 319 a game.
All four return and they should drastically improve in terms of placement against other teams in the nation, but I would be a bit shocked if they are higher than 75th–80th.
Corey Frazier is their best tackler on the team, but they just lack corners that have solid ball skills. Their two starting corners (Jammer & Gaines) are both 6’1" but lack fluid hips and are not strong enough to bump the opposition enough to mess with their timing.
The rush defense was not bad being ranked 54th (145 YPG). John Gioffre is the only constant threat in the front seven, and teams will start to run the ball on them a lot more especially because Rice figures to be trailing in the majority of their games early and often.
Make no mistake about it—the Owls are improving. Look for Rice to match last year’s win total. But if they top it then there is a slight chance they would be bowling for just the third time in the past 51 years.
Predicted Finish: 4-8, 4-4
Predicted Bowl: None
Predicted order of finish in C-USA: Fourth in West, Seventh in C-USA