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1. After the peak
Last year, I opened my Rice preview by saying that "Whatever Rice's ceiling is under David Bailiff, we'll probably see it in 2013." The idea was simple; most of the talent responsible for Rice's stunning surge over the last half of 2012 was returning, and a large percentage of that talent was entering its senior season. 2013 was going to represent a peak, and then the Owls would have to undergo a bit of a rebuild.
In a way, however, the rebuild began early. A couple of key seniors missed 2013 (defensive tackle Hosam Shahin left the team, and linebacker Cameron Nwosu was injured), a pair of freshman running backs stole carries from upperclassmen, and we got a bit of an early glimpse of Rice's future. The Owls didn't look quite as good as expected over the season's first month or so, but they ground out a series of close wins -- by four over FAU (a win that would begin to look more impressive as we learned that FAU was pretty good), by three at Tulsa, by six at UTSA -- and as the season went on, they began to look the part of not only a Conference USA contender, but also just a damn solid team.
Rice finished 7-1 in conference and upset Marshall at home in the Conference USA title game to win their first solo conference title since the 1950s.
A year ago, it was rather clear that Rice would be decent in 2013, but the picture got a bit fuzzy after that. Now, things don't seem quite as fuzzy. Sure, the offensive backfield gets younger and thinner, but there is experience at wideout, defensive tackle, linebacker, on the offensive line and in the secondary, and there are more than 25 former three-star recruits littered throughout the roster. Plus, division rivals North Texas and UTSA come to Houston.
I was more confident in last year's squad than this year's, but there is potential here, and the odds of a drop-off are not nearly as strong as they seemed a year ago. Hell of a job, David Bailiff.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 10-4 | Adj. Record: 6-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 69|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Texas A&M||23||31-52||L||28.2 - 31.9||L|
|14-Sep||Kansas||101||23-14||W||21.4 - 25.1||L|
|21-Sep||vs. Houston||46||26-31||L||32.4 - 32.5||L|
|28-Sep||Florida Atlantic||73||18-14||W||17.0 - 18.2||L|
|5-Oct||at Tulsa||94||30-27||W||25.8 - 27.4||L||-2.0|
|12-Oct||at UTSA||67||27-21||W||26.8 - 24.9||W||-0.9|
|19-Oct||at New Mexico State||122||45-19||W||24.6 - 24.2||W||-0.1|
|26-Oct||UTEP||119||45-7||W||30.2 - 30.4||L||-0.1|
|31-Oct||at North Texas||51||16-28||L||26.7 - 22.8||W||0.9|
|16-Nov||Louisiana Tech||112||52-14||W||42.6 - 29.3||W||3.9|
|21-Nov||at UAB||115||37-34||W||19.7 - 23.1||L||2.8|
|30-Nov||Tulane||70||17-13||W||18.5 - 5.1||W||5.4|
|7-Dec||Marshall||52||41-24||W||51.0 - 19.5||W||11.7|
|31-Dec||vs. Mississippi State||33||7-44||L||10.5 - 38.9||L||5.3|
|Points Per Game||29.6||61||24.4||42|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.8||74||25.2||38|
2. Another late-season surge
Granted, the Liberty Bowl performance against Mississippi State -- a 44-7 humbling in which Rice could do nothing to slow down MSU quarterback Dak Prescott and couldn't get any offensive push against the Bulldogs' front seven -- left a different taste in the mouth than a bowl thrashing of Air Force did the year before. But for the second straight season, Rice erupted late in the season. In 2012, the Owls went from 1-5 with a minus-12.0 adjusted scoring margin to 6-1 and minus-1.0. In 2013, the start wasn't nearly as discouraging, and the finish was even better.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Opponent 27.0, Rice 25.0 (minus-2.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Rice 27.1, Opponent 25.6 (plus-1.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Rice 33.0, Opponent 19.3 (plus-13.7)
Aside from a frustrating, unlucky could-have-gone-very-poorly slog over UAB (UAB recovered all three of the game's fumbles, and Rice missed a field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime), Rice was genuinely awesome down the stretch. The Owls dominated Louisiana Tech, overcame Tulane's stout defense, and exploded against a good Marshall squad to claim the conference title. The offense averaged at least 6.3 yards per play in four of its final seven regular season games, and the defense allowed 4.8 or fewer in four of five. This team came together beautifully ... as long as we don't take that bowl performance too seriously.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.1%||77||Succ. Rt. +||95.6||78|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.2||33||Def. FP+||103.4||21|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||44||Redzone S&P+||106.9||36|
|Q1 Rk||69||1st Down Rk||94|
|Q2 Rk||50||2nd Down Rk||44|
|Q3 Rk||113||3rd Down Rk||105|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Driphus Jackson||6'0, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||5||16||50||0||1||31.3%||5||23.8%||1.3|
|Tyler Stehling||6'6, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Nate German||6'2, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
3. Driphus vs. sample sizes
In two years as Taylor McHargue's backup, Driphus Jackson has posted numbers that almost perfectly personify "young, mobile quarterback learning to pass": low completion rate (52 percent), high sack rate (12 percent), solid non-sack rushing numbers (5.4 yards per carry), plenty of big pass plays (16.4 yards per completion). He looked so good in the Military Bowl against Air Force at the end of 2012 that it was easy to see him potentially passing McHargue in the starting lineup, but that didn't happen.
And not only didn't it happen, Jackson looked mostly awful throwing the ball in minimal backup opportunities. After completing 39 of 69 passes for 670 yards, six scores, and no picks in 2012, he was five-for-16 for 50 and an interception in 2013.
It's easy to overreact to either his stellar freshman numbers or awful sophomore numbers, but averaging them out gives the closest thing to an accurate picture. Jackson was a star recruit for Rice, and if he can throw more like he did in 2012, his ceiling is at least as high as McHargue's. But if he struggles, he could be overtaken by either of two other young, interesting quarterbacks -- sophomore Tyler Stehling or redshirt freshman Nate German. So far, so good for Jackson this spring.
|Jawon Davis||RB||5'7, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||95||476||3||5.0||4.4||36.8%|
|Darik Dillard||RB||5'10, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||82||396||3||4.8||2.9||42.7%|
|Luke Turner||RB||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||38||166||2||4.4||4.0||39.5%|
|Driphus Jackson||QB||6'0, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||22||179||1||8.1||6.8||54.5%|
|Darrion Pollard||CB||5'8, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)||4||5||1||1.3||N/A||0.0%|
|Brandon Hamilton||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ryan Trauffler||RB||5'9, 180||RSFr.||NR|
|Austin Walter||RB||5'7, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Samuel Stewart||RB||5'9, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
4. Doing the line some favors
The offense's early mediocrity certainly could have had something to do with the fact that running back Charles Ross was hampered by a knee injury in the early going. He missed the FAU and Tulsa games, and he was limited against Houston and UTSA; it's probably not a coincidence that Rice averaged only 3.8 yards per carry in those games. But in the four games from NMSU to Louisiana Tech, Ross carried 92 times for 635 yards and seven touchdowns (five against Louisiana Tech).
Ross certainly had his explosive moments, especially for a 235-pounder, but his biggest strength was his ability to make his line look pretty good. His Opportunity Rate (the percentage of times a runner gets at least five yards downfield, a.k.a. the instances in which you could generalize that a line did its job) of 48.3 percent was the third-highest for all running backs with at least 200 carries in 2013. Only Carlos Hyde (57.2 percent!) and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (53.4 percent) were better in this regard.
Ross' absence isn't particularly exciting, obviously, but it has to be considered encouraging that two smaller freshman backs, Jawon Davis and Darik Dillard, were able to manage an Opportunity Rate of 40 percent in backing up Ross. The explosiveness wasn't really there, but between these two, juniors Luke Turner and Brandon Hamliton, and some solid newcomers, it's certainly fair to think the running back position will be in good shape this fall. And even if there's a dropoff here, the line itself should be able to hold its own with five returnees combining for 92 career starts.
|Jordan Taylor||WR||6'5, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||96||55||848||57.3%||29.7%||58.2%||8.8||140||8.9||91.7|
|Dennis Parks||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||53||29||508||54.7%||16.4%||43.8%||9.6||126||9.1||55.0|
|Mario Hull||WR||6'1, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||23||12||99||52.2%||7.1%||59.1%||4.3||-63||3.9||10.7|
|Connor Cella||TE||6'3, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||19||13||130||68.4%||5.9%||57.9%||6.8||-23||6.8||14.1|
|Darik Dillard||RB||5'10, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||7||3||38||42.9%||2.2%||60.0%||5.4||-8||8.0||4.1|
|Derek Brown||WR||6'3, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||2||1||5||50.0%||0.6%||N/A||2.5||-9||0.0||0.5|
|Robby Wells III||TE||6'6, 235||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Reid Mitchell||TE||6'2, 240||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Zach Wright||WR||6'1, 200||So.||NR|
|Cole Hunt||TE||6'6, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Aston Walter||WR||5'8, 191||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Temi Alaka||WR||6'2, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Parker Smith||WR||6'2, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Doing the quarterback some favors
Jackson's certainly a strong runner, and there are enough returning pieces to suggest the running game should hum for much of 2014. But at some point, Jackson will have to pass. Assuming he still takes quite a few sacks -- so many mobile quarterbacks do -- there will need to be plenty of big plays to offset the damage.
It's good news, then, that the top two receivers return, and both are big-play guys. Jordan Taylor and Dennis Parks combined to average 16.1 yards per catch and 9.1 yards per target in 2013, and I'd expect similar numbers this fall. Perhaps the biggest key will be for some possession options to emerge as well. The player with the best catch rate, Turner Petersen, is gone, and Jackson might need some help from the tight end position: sophomore Connor Cella, Reid Mitchell, and Robby Wells III, and redshirt freshman Cole Hunt could come in handy. Cella caught 13 of 19 passes last year, and Hunt and Mitchell are former three-star signees.
|Nate Richards||C||27||1st All-CUSA|
|Caleb Williams||RT||6'3, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||26|
|Nico Carlson||LG||6'3, 285||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||25|
|Drew Carroll||RG||6'4, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||25|
|Andrew Reue||OL||6'5, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||13|
|Ian Gray||LT||6'8, 345||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||3|
|Brandon Dawkins||LT||6'7, 305||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Spencer Stanley||C||6'2, 275||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|John Poehlmann||RT||6'5, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Kenneth Thompson||LG||6'4, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Trey Martin||C||6'2, 260||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Peter Godber||RG||6'4, 290||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Sam Pierce||OL||6'5, 295||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Cory Klingler||OL||6'4, 298||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Hunter Ponder||OL||6'5, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||36.8%||14||Succ. Rt. +||108.1||32|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.0||48||Off. FP+||101.5||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||64||Redzone S&P+||101.2||53|
|Q1 Rk||46||1st Down Rk||44|
|Q2 Rk||92||2nd Down Rk||49|
|Q3 Rk||41||3rd Down Rk||76|
6. Nice and aggressive
Even with the losses of Hosam Shahin and Cameron Nwosu before the season, Rice's defense showed significant improvement in 2013, and most of it had to do with rather successful aggression. Rice had a decent 53 non-sack tackles for loss, forced 14 fumbles, and defensed 75 passes (14 interceptions, 61 break-ups). The pass rush was an issue and should be again, but the return of a few active tackles and most of an experienced, deep secondary should come in handy.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Christian Covington||DT||6'3, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||48.5||6.7%||11.5||4.0||0||3||1||1|
|Stuart Mouchantaf||DT||6'4, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||8||26.0||3.6%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ross Winship||NT||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||16.5||2.3%||1.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Dylan Klare||DT||6'2, 270||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||15.0||2.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Patt||DE||6'2, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||14||14.5||2.0%||3.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Brian Nordstrom||DE||6'3, 230||Jr.||NR||14||10.0||1.4%||1.5||1.5||0||2||1||0|
|Derek Brown||DE||6'3, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||5.5||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Cody Henessee||NT||6'2, 265||So.||3 stars (5.5)||8||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevor Jones||DE||6'5, 265||Sr.||NR|
|Grant Peterson||DE||6'6, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Brian Womac||DE||6'3, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Graysen Schantz||DE||6'2, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Parker Hanusa||DE||6'4, 220||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brad Luvender||NT||6'3, 250||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. The pass rush was already shaky
Rice showed some aggressive potential at defensive tackle, and linebacker Michael Kutzler will be missed, but the end position left something to be desired. Cody Bauer recorded a strong 5.5 sacks in 2013, but the rest of the ends combined for only five more, and Rice ranked worse than 80th in sack rate on both standard downs and passing downs.
And now Bauer's gone. Rice is loaded at tackle with the return of its top four (three of whom were three-star recruits), including Christian Covington, but the end position is devoid of any sort of experience or proven production. Brian Nordstrom showed potential with 1.5 sacks and two pass break-ups in reserve time, but that's not much to bank on. Some newcomers to the rotation will have to hold their own if Rice's ends are to draw attention away from its solid tackles.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|James Radcliffe||WLB||6'1, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||47.0||6.5%||1.5||1.0||0||4||2||0|
|Nick Elder||WLB||6'0, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||24.0||3.3%||1.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Alex Lyons||SLB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||14||23.0||3.2%||2.0||0.0||0||0||1||1|
|Chandler Watkins||SLB||6'0, 215||So.||NR||10||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tabari McGaskey||WLB||6'0, 220||So.||2 stars (5.4)||7||2.0||0.3%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|DJ Green||LB||6'2, 220||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Nick Uretsky||SLB||6'0, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Julius White||FS||5'10, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||52.5||7.3%||2.5||0||2||9||0||0|
|Malcolm Hill||SS||5'11, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||14||37.5||5.2%||3.5||0||3||8||0||0|
|Bryce Callahan||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||30.0||4.1%||3||0||3||10||1||0|
|Gabe Baker||SS||6'1, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||29.5||4.1%||2.5||0||0||2||1||0|
|Jaylon Finner||KAT||5'10, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||23.5||3.2%||0.5||0||0||2||1||0|
|Garrett Fuhrman||FS||5'8, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||14||12.5||1.7%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Pollard||CB||5'8, 165||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||14||10.5||1.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Canady||CB||5'9, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||9||6.0||0.8%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Espinosa||FS||6'2, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Austin Laudeschlager||KAT||6'0, 195||Jr.||NR|
|J.T. Blassingame||CB||5'8, 170||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Cole Thomas||FS||6'2, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|V.J. Banks||S||6'2, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|J.T. Ibe||S||6'0, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
8. Upside in the back
Even without a decent pass rush, Rice's secondary made all sorts of plays in 2013. Five defensive backs defensed at least six passes, and three of them are back. Paul Porras and Phillip Gaines could be missed, but in safeties Julius White and Malcolm Hill and corner Bryce Callahan, there's a strong base of talent here. Plus, Gabe Baker is aggressive and solid as well. If the Owls can find a decent cornerback to line up opposite Callahan, this unit should be just as successful as last year.
The talent fit the scheme in 2013. The tackles were able to hold their own, which is incredibly important in a 4-2-5 scheme that sacrifices size for speed. The pass rush will still leave something to be desired, but the key components in the middle -- the tackles, linebacker James Radcliffe, and three strong safeties -- should assure that this defense doesn't fall too far.
|James Farrimond||6'0, 210||Jr.||71||42.1||7||17||15||45.1%|
|Luke Turner||6'1, 230||Jr.||6||36.5||1||0||3||50.0%|
|Malcolm Hill||KR||5'11, 190||Jr.||11||21.5||0|
|Darrion Pollard||KR||5'8, 175||So.||8||18.9||0|
|Bryce Callahan||PR||5'10, 180||Sr.||18||6.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||36|
|Field Goal Efficiency||39|
|Punt Return Efficiency||90|
|Kick Return Efficiency||68|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||16|
9. Dominating field position
In both of the Five Factors boxes above, Rice's field position numbers were either the best (offense) or second-best (defense) of the bunch. The aggressive defense forced three-and-outs and turnovers, the offense was able to remain reasonably efficient, and the kick-and-return games were strong. Chris Boswell had a cannon for a kickoffs leg, and he will be difficult to replace, but at the very least a strong punter in James Farrimond returns. And while the return games were only average-at-best, the relevant return men do return.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||at Notre Dame||17|
|13-Sep||at Texas A&M||7|
|27-Sep||at Southern Miss||110|
|1-Nov||at Florida International||119|
|29-Nov||at Louisiana Tech||98|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-15.7% (103)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||92|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 6.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. Survive September
Fortunes are not supposed to change quickly in college football. Most of the current great programs were also great 20 or 30 years ago. But this rule evidently doesn't apply to Conference USA. Southern Miss ended an 18-year streak of winning records by going 1-23 in 2012-13. Tulsa just went from 11 wins to three. Marshall went from five wins to 10, North Texas from four to nine. UTSA didn't exist three years ago but went 7-5 last year.
Rice, of course, has a hell of a story of its own. The Owls went 10-3 in 2008, then went 10-26 over the next three years. A 2-6 start to 2012 all but doomed the David Bailiff era, but the Owls have gone 15-4 since. It is difficult to project success or failure with any sort of confidence, but it does feel like this Rice program is on more solid footing than I feared it would be following the departure of Taylor McHargue, Charles Ross, and others. The offensive identity will be based more on speed than size, and the defense could still struggle to rush the passer, but if Driphus Jackson is able to raise his game (or if one of the young other quarterbacks can pass him), then Rice looks to be a contender for its second straight conference title.
The key, then, will simply be surviving September. The season begins with trips to Notre Dame and Texas A&M, two projected top-20 teams, and a likely 0-2 start. Eight of the final 10 opponents are projected 90th or worse, and if Rice can play like a top-80 team (not out of the question), the Owls could potentially expect a 6-2 record or so. Survive September with confidence, and Bailiff's squad could rack up a third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1948-50.