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1. Whatever Rice's ceiling is under David Bailiff, we'll probably see it in 2013
Here's the list of impact players from Rice's 2012 that are no longer with the program in 2013: receiver Sam McGuffie, receiver Vance McDonald, defensive end Jared Williams ... the end. A team that surged over the final half of the 2012 season (over a long enough span to consider it sustainable) returns almost literally everybody of importance this year. Rice brings back two interesting quarterbacks, three big running backs, a star receivers, seven offensive linemen with starting experience, six of the top seven defensive linemen, five of the top six linebackers, and every single defensive back.
A Texas lifer, head coach David Bailiff was born in Dallas, played offensive line and tight end at Southwest Texas State (now just Texas State), and has spent 27 of his 32 years as a coach in the state of Texas. His lone departure: five years in the far away land of Albuquerque, a full 200 miles or so from the Texas border. He was the defensive line coach at New Braunfels High School, Texas State, and New Mexico. He was the defensive coordinator at Texas State and TCU. He was the head coach at Texas State. And six years ago, he took over the thankless Rice job. As a Texas lifer, he knew just how difficult that job was, and he took it anyway.
Before Bailiff, Rice had attended a single bowl since 1962, and it came the year before he arrived (2006, Todd Graham's only season at Rice [insert "Todd Graham left a job after one season???" faux outrage here]). In his second season, the Owls went 10-3 (first 10-win season since 1949) and won the Texas Bowl (first bowl win since 1953). But they would win just 11 of their next 38 games and sat at just 1-5 following a disturbing 14-10 loss at Memphis. It is sometimes difficult to get a good read for job status at mid-major schools, but one had to figure that Bailiff was on his way out in Houston. One good season in six years, punctuated by a total collapse, typically signifies the end of a coach's tenure.
Six months after that loss to Memphis, however, an incredible amount has changed. Rice rallied to win six of its final seven games, with the only loss a tight home defeat to eventual conference champion Tulsa. The Owls played a truly decent level for the final half of the season, and now they get to try to do it again with almost the exact same cast of characters. Last-second comebacks don't usually happen in the coaching profession, but we may be witnessing one here.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 4-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 87|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|30-Aug||UCLA||24-49||L||23.3 - 47.0||L|
|8-Sep||at Kansas||25-24||W||18.9 - 32.9||L|
|15-Sep||at Louisiana Tech||37-56||L||25.9 - 39.6||L|
|22-Sep||Marshall||51-54||L||32.0 - 34.9||L|
|29-Sep||vs. Houston||14-35||L||19.1 - 38.6||L|
|6-Oct||at Memphis||10-14||L||12.3 - 20.5||L|
|13-Oct||UTSA||34-14||W||29.3 - 19.8||W|
|20-Oct||at Tulsa||24-28||L||25.2 - 28.7||L|
|27-Oct||Southern Miss||44-17||W||29.0 - 23.3||W|
|3-Nov||at Tulane||49-47||W||24.6 - 49.8||L|
|17-Nov||SMU||36-14||W||31.3 - 30.4||W|
|24-Nov||at UTEP||33-24||W||24.4 - 38.4||L|
|29-Dec||vs. Air Force||33-14||W||32.1 - 12.3||W|
|Points Per Game||31.8||41||30.0||78|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.2||91||32.0||96|
2. Seven games is a trend
We tend to make too much of great bowl performances. It's the reason why Louisville is probably going to be a preseason Top 10 team this coming year despite only looking like a Top 10 team once or twice last year; one of those instances came in the Sugar Bowl against Florida, and they will feel the West Virginia Effect™ this fall because of it.
Rice looked tremendous in disposing of Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, but that's one game. The reason to be pretty optimistic about Rice is not because of one game, but because of seven.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Opponent 33.9, Rice 21.9 (minus-12.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Opponent 29.0, Rice 28.0 (minus-1.0)
Rice had a bad defense and worse offense through the first six games of the season, but the Owls turned things around a bit on both sides of the ball (especially offense) and became a thoroughly decent team. The purpose of Adj. Score is to look at how your record might have taken shape if you were playing a perfectly average team, with a perfectly average number of breaks, each week. That Rice was still minus-1.0 points per game versus this theoretical average team shows that the Owls still had plenty of holes; they did, after all, barely beat Tulane and only looked decent against UTEP.
But improvement is improvement, and an average team can still win quite a few games in Conference USA. Plus, it had been a while since Rice saw average.
|Q1 Rk||119||1st Down Rk||94|
|Q2 Rk||57||2nd Down Rk||106|
|Q3 Rk||100||3rd Down Rk||88|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Taylor McHargue||6'1, 220||Sr.||*** (5.5)||194||325||2,209||59.7%||12||5||25||7.1%||5.9|
|Driphus Jackson||6'0, 200||So.||*** (5.6)||39||69||672||56.5%||6||0||7||9.2%||8.4|
|Nate German||6'2, 215||Fr.||** (5.4)|
3. Poor Taylor McHargue
It was kind of a worst-case scenario for Taylor McHargue in the Armed Forces Bowl. The then-junior, whose own improvement had largely mirrored Rice's as a whole in October and November, struggled through the first half, throwing for just 31 yards in eight passes, getting sacked twice, and losing two fumbles. He was knocked out of the game with injury, and his backup, highly-touted redshirt freshman Driphus Jackson, came in and dominated: 15-for-21 passing for 264 yards and two scores, with 32 rushing yards thrown in for good measure. He looked outstanding, and it created a "How long can McHargue hold Jackson off?" narrative for 2013.
Thus far, the answer appears to be at least "Through the spring." McHargue had a solid spring and outplayed Jackson in the spring game. And for the 2012 season as a whole, McHargue was potentially better, too. He was a more effective runner, and while he took far too many sacks, he took fewer than Jackson. He was not nearly as aggressive in the passing game, but Rice could do worse than to start the season with McHargue and see what happens.
|Charles Ross||RB||6'1, 230||Sr.||** (5.4)||147||800||5.4||4.8||5||-2.7|
|Taylor McHargue||QB||6'1, 220||Sr.||*** (5.5)||139||824||5.9||5.6||11||+14.1|
|Turner Petersen||RB||6'2, 230||Jr.||** (5.2)||127||599||4.7||3.8||5||-5.6|
|Jeremy Eddington||RB||6'2, 235||Sr.||*** (5.6)||45||201||4.5||4.0||1||-1.9|
|Driphus Jackson||QB||6'0, 200||So.||*** (5.6)||40||153||3.8||3.6||1||-4.7|
|Luke Turner||RB||6'1, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||35||146||4.2||5.9||2||-1.6|
|Brandon Hamilton||RB||5'11, 210||So.||*** (5.6)||34||93||2.7||2.7||0||-7.4|
|Jowan Davis||RB||5'7, 205||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Jordan Taylor||WR-B||6'5, 210||Jr.||** (5.4)||93||57||826||61.3%||8.9||24.2%||66.7%||9.1||75.0|
|Donte Moore||WR-F||6'0, 180||Sr.||** (5.1)||40||26||326||65.0%||8.2||10.4%||62.5%||8.1||29.6|
|Mario Hull (2011)||WR-A||6'1, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||32||17||181||53.1%||5.7||8.7%||46.1%||N/A||N/A|
|Dennis Parks||WR-B||6'2, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||24||7||112||29.2%||4.7||6.3%||58.3%||4.7||10.2|
|Turner Petersen||RB||6'2, 230||Jr.||** (5.2)||19||14||166||73.7%||8.7||4.9%||57.9%||8.8||15.1|
|Charles Ross||RB||6'1, 230||Sr.||** (5.4)||18||10||98||55.6%||5.4||4.7%||83.3%||6.0||8.9|
|Andre Gautreaux||WR-A||6'0, 195||Sr.||** (5.2)||7||3||27||42.9%||3.9||1.8%||42.9%||4.2||2.5|
|Klein Kubiak||WR||6'1, 195||Sr.||** (4.9)||5||2||22||40.0%||4.4||1.3%||0.0%||1.7||2.0|
|Jeremy Eddington||RB||6'2, 235||Sr.||*** (5.6)||4||3||12||75.0%||3.0||1.0%||75.0%||4.4||1.1|
|Connor Cella||WR-Y||6'3, 235||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Reid Mitchell||WR-Y||6'2, 235||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Cole Hunt||TE||6'7, 240||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
4. Size is good (Rice hopes)
For a few years now, Rice has had one of the most unique offensive lineups in college football. The Owls' three leading running backs in 2012 were all at least 6'1, 230 pounds, and 2011's leading receivers, Vance McDonald and Luke Wilson, averaged 6'5, 255. This was a big team, capable of punishing you physically ... and incapable of making big plays and actually scoring points. I wanted this lineup to work because I love uniqueness, but it just wasn't happening.
In 2012, however, the running game began to click. McHargue and Charles Ross showed decent big-play ability, and Rice was able to lean more heavily on the ground game. The passing game has its moments, and anybody who saw Jordan Taylor's performance in the Armed Forces Bowl (12 targets, nine catches, 153 yards, three touchdowns) has starry eyes for what could become of the passing game. But Rice still needs to prove itself in the passing game. The bowl wasn't the norm. Taylor (6'5, but 'only' 210 pounds) has star potential, but he'll need help from Donte Moore, spring star Klein Kubiak, and some higher-ceiling (and big) youngsters.
|Drew Carroll||RG||6'4, 290||Jr.||** (5.3)||20 career starts|
|Jon Hodde||LT||6'7, 300||Sr.||** (5.2)||17 career starts|
|Nate Richards||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13 career starts|
|Caleb Williams||RT||6'3, 275||So.||** (5.3)||12 career starts|
|Nico Carlson||LG||6'3, 275||Jr.||** (5.2)||12 career starts|
|Andrew Reue||RG||6'5, 290||So.||** (5.3)||3 career starts|
|Ian Gray||LT||6'8, 325||Jr.||** (5.4)||3 career starts|
|Matt Simonette||LG||6'2, 305||Jr.||NR|
|Matt Wofford||RT||6'7, 305||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Connor Patterson||LG||6'4, 290||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Spencer Stanley||C||6'2, 275||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Brandon Dawkins||RT||6'7, 300||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Kenneth Thompson||OL||6'4, 283||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
5. A decent line becomes a good line
The offensive line had to replace five players with a combined 150 career starts following the 2011 season but actually improved by a decent amount in run blocking. The Owls were fantastic in short-yardage situations (not surprising considering the big backs), but they were also good at limiting negative plays on the ground (Stuff Rate) and keeping drives moving forward. The pass blocking could use some help, especially as it pertains to handling blitzes, but considering the level of experience on this unit, at least marginal improvement in both facets of line play should be expected.
|Q1 Rk||89||1st Down Rk||113|
|Q2 Rk||100||2nd Down Rk||107|
|Q3 Rk||120||3rd Down Rk||65|
6. Opponents gave up on passing downs
Rice played pass-happy teams like Houston, Tulane, and Marshall last year. And until the bowl game, the Owls didn't play a particularly run-heavy team. So when you see that opponents ran the ball 44 percent of the time on passing downs, more than 10 percent above the national average, that is significant.
Opponents feared Rice's pass rush, and with good reason. The Owls had one of the 10 best pass rushes in the country, one that was terrifying in its diversity. Four different linemen logged at least 5.0 sacks, and none logged more than 5.5. Three of those four return, as do all three Owl linebackers who brought the quarterback down at least a couple of times. In all, though, Rice's 28 sacks were not that impressive as a raw total -- it ranked just 44th overall and was less than half of No. 1 Stanford's total (57). But opponents intentionally didn't give Rice a chance to sack the quarterback.
Of course, this great pass rush would have been more of a strength if Rice could have shown any ability to stop the run.
7. Opponents didn't have to face many passing downs
As good as the Rice offensive line was in short yardage situations, the defensive line was equally bad. And in all, while the line stats below weren't the very worst in the country, they were bad enough to set the table for some bad overall rushing stats. And the linebackers didn't seem to help much. Cameron Nwosu was a solid playmaker, with seven tackles for loss and four passes defensed, but you have to stop the other team from making plays too.
If experience leads to stronger play on standard downs -- and there's nothing saying it will, really; experience doesn't automatically give less talented players more pure talent -- then the defense's overall play could improve dramatically considering the passing down strengths.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cody Bauer||DE||6'4, 255||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||43.5||6.6%||12||5.5||1||1||2||2|
|Hosam Shahin||NT||6'3, 290||Sr.||** (5.1)||13||36.0||5.4%||9.5||5||0||0||1||0|
|Christian Covington||DT||6'3, 290||So.||*** (5.5)||12||34.5||5.2%||8||5||0||1||1||0|
|Stuart Mouchantaf||NT||6'4, 290||Jr.||** (5.3)||13||8.5||1.3%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Patt||DE||6'2, 240||Jr.||** (5.2)||12||7.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Trevor Gillette||DE||6'3, 240||Sr.||** (5.3)||12||6.5||1.0%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tanner Leland||DE||6'2, 240||Sr.||** (5.3)||9||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevor Jones||DE||6'5, 265||Jr.||NR||11||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ross Winship||DT||6'4, 290||So.||*** (5.5)||8||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Dylan Klare||DE||6'2, 270||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Cody Hennessee||DT||6'4, 280||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Brad Luvender||DT||6'4, 256||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Parker Hanusa||DE||6'3, 224||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Graysen Schantz||DE||6'3, 240||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cameron Nwosu||SLB||5'10, 240||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||73.5||11.1%||7||2.5||2||2||0||0|
|James Radcliffe||WLB||6'1, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||34.0||5.1%||4.5||2||0||1||0||1|
|Michael Kutzler||SLB||6'0, 205||Jr.||NR||13||13.5||2.0%||2||2||0||0||0||2|
|Nick Elder||WLB||6'0, 215||So.||** (5.4)||10||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Broderick Jackson||LB||5'10, 205||Sr.||NR||13||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Lyons||LB||6'0, 215||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|D.J. Green||LB||6'2, 226||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Brian Womac||LB||6'2, 230||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Paul Porras||KAT||6'1, 200||Sr.||** (5.1)||13||78.5||11.8%||2.5||0||2||4||0||1|
|Julius White||FS||5'10, 195||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||67.0||10.1%||3.5||0||2||6||3||0|
|Malcolm Hill||SS||5'11, 185||So.||** (5.4)||13||37.5||5.6%||0||0||1||3||1||1|
|Gabe Baker||SS||6'1, 210||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||35.0||5.3%||2||0||1||2||1||1|
|Bryce Callahan||CB||5'10, 180||Jr.||*** (5.5)||8||29.0||4.4%||2||0||2||7||0||0|
|Phillip Gaines||CB||6'1, 185||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||28.0||4.2%||2||0||0||18||0||1|
|Alex Francis||CB||5'9, 190||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||17.5||2.6%||2.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Garrett Fuhrman||FS||5'8, 170||So.||** (5.2)||7||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Jaylon Finner||DB||5'10, 195||Jr.||*** (5.6)||5||5.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|J.T. Blasingame||CB||5'8, 170||So.||** (5.3)||12||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Corey Frazier||S||6'1, 215||Sr.||** (5.3)||1||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Espinosa||S||6'2, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||13||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Ryan Pollard||CB||5'8, 170||So.||** (5.4)|
|Austin Laudenschlager||KAT||6'0, 195||So.||NR|
|Anthony Canady||DB||5'9, 172||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Cole Thomas||DB||6'2, 191||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
8. Every -- EVERY -- defensive back returns
That Rice ranked 10th in Adj. Sack Rate and still ranked just 92nd in Passing S&P+ probably tells you that the secondary was, to put it kindly, lacking. It wasn't for lack of aggressiveness, though. Six defensive backs made at least two plays behind the line of scrimmage, and five defensed at least four passes. The problem, as with the run defense, was big plays. If Rice wasn't making them, it was allowing them. Only five FBS teams were worse at preventing big plays through the air, which makes it a double-edged sword that every Rice defensive back returns in 2013. Some new blood would be nice, and if one of two three-star freshmen were able to crack into the rotation, that might be a good thing.
That said, there is certainly potential here. Corners Bryce Callahan and Phillip Gaines combined to defense 27 passes (with Callahan only playing in eight games), which, combined with a low overall number of tackles (57.0), suggests that these pass defenses weren't simply of the "opponents targeted them all the time" variety. They were making plays on the ball. And veteran safeties Paul Porras and Julius White were indeed able to play both aggressively and effectively at times. But man oh man, did they give up a lot of big plays. I can only talk myself into this unit to a degree.
|Chris Boswell||6'2, 200||Sr.||14||40.5||2||5||5||71.4%|
|Chris Boswell||6'2, 200||Sr.||80||63.8||49||61.3%|
|Chris Boswell||6'2, 200||Sr.||45-47||12-13||92.3%||11-16||68.8%|
|James Farrimond||6'0, 210||So.||0-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Luke Turner||KR||6'1, 210||So.||13||20.6||0|
|Jeremy Eddington||KR||6'2, 235||Sr.||9||34.0||1|
|Dennis Parks||PR||6'2, 185||So.||13||3.2||0|
|Special Teams F/+||11|
|Field Goal Pct||30|
|Kick Returns Avg||41|
|Punt Returns Avg||103|
9. Chris Boswell has a cannon
Special teams was a secret weapon for Rice all season. Rice ranked a healthy 36th in Field Position Advantage, in part because Chris Boswell was one of the nation's best kickoff guys. Nearly two-thirds of his kickoffs were unreturnable, and in limited opportunities, he actually proved decent in the punting game, too. His cannon was a lovely weapon for the offense -- on field goals under 40 yards, he was nearly automatic, and he made a healthy 11 of 16 over 40 as well. For an offense that still struggled with big plays at times, knowing you've got three points nearly in the bag once you cross the opponent's 30 is lovely.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|31-Aug||at Texas A&M||13|
|12-Oct||at UT-San Antonio||114|
|19-Oct||at New Mexico State||123|
|2-Nov||at North Texas||112|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||101|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||82|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+5 / +14.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||19 (9, 10)|
10. Rice might not lose after October 5
"Anything less than a double-digit win season and a conference championship would be a disappointment," McHargue said. "With the guys we have coming back and a favorable schedule, I can't think of any reason why that shouldn't happen."
Rice finished last season ranked 87th in the overall F/+ rankings. They played at what was probably a Top 70 level over the final half of the season. Returning 19 starters results in nearly guaranteed improvement. So let's conservatively say that the Owls play at a Top 75 level in 2013.
That puts them ahead of nine 2013 opponents and significantly ahead of eight.
I can't go far as to say, like McHargue, that anything less than a Conference USA title would be a disappointment, but I'm not sure Rice will ever have a more golden opportunity to rack up a gaudy win total, especially if the Owls take out Houston on September 21. Assuming losses to Texas A&M and Tulsa, it would then take an upset for them to finish worse than 10-2. We'll set the bar at 9-3, but wow, does this team, with this experience and this schedule, have a chance to have a lovely season. It might need to win at Tulsa to reach the C-USA game, and that seems a bit much, but again, the David Bailiff Era was on life support in early October 2012. Now Bailiff has a serious opportunity; it would be a damn shame if his team didn't capitalize on it in 2013.