PRESENTED BY 669248957_logo

The big 2014 Rice football preview: What do you do for an encore?

A year and a half ago, it looked like David Bailiff's time at Rice was just about over. But the Owls have won 15 of 19 games and are the defending Conference USA champions. Can they make changes in the backfield and make a run at a second title?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -2.4% 69 -2.3% 75 +1.6% 36
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 68 IsoPPP+ 93.4 94
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.4 ACTUAL 19 -1.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 70 89 79 84
RUSHING 17 79 61 37
PASSING 105 87 103 108
Standard Downs 92 74 115
Passing Downs 78 75 43
Q1 Rk 69 1st Down Rk 94
Q2 Rk 50 2nd Down Rk 44
Q3 Rk 113 3rd Down Rk 105
Q4 Rk 109

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taylor McHargue 169 324 2345 17 8 52.2% 30 8.5% 6.1
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Charles Ross RB 211 1280 15 6.1 4.7 48.3%
Taylor McHargue QB 127 641 5 5.0 6.4 36.2%
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%
Turner Petersen RB


61 262 0 4.3 2.9 39.3%
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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
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
Donte Moore WR 51 21 305 41.2% 15.8% 47.9% 6.0 -22 6.7 33.0
Turner Petersen RB


32 26 348 81.3% 9.9% 60.7% 10.9 66 11.2 37.6
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
Klein Kubiak WR 15 7 96 46.7% 4.6% 58.3% 6.4 -5 5.6 10.4
Charles Ross RB 12 5 37 41.7% 3.7% 58.3% 3.1 -40 2.9 4.0
Andre Gautreaux WR 8 2 18 25.0% 2.5% 0.0% 2.3 -25 1.6 1.9
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.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 100.7 3.17 3.14 41.7% 71.9% 16.7% 64.1 6.2% 12.4%
Rank 68 29 77 39 41 29 115 102 121
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Nate Richards C 27 1st All-CUSA
Jon Hodde LT 31
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)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.20 87 IsoPPP+ 93.4 99
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.5 ACTUAL 26.0 -0.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 30 45 32 53
RUSHING 62 41 45 59
PASSING 18 60 18 48
Standard Downs 33 25 79
Passing Downs 73 48 107
Q1 Rk 46 1st Down Rk 44
Q2 Rk 92 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 41 3rd Down Rk 76
Q4 Rk 49

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.9 2.56 3.76 37.1% 57.8% 19.0% 85.7 3.6% 6.0%
Rank 47 19 107 43 16 65 92 88 83
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Cody Bauer DE 12 30.5 4.2% 11.0 5.5 0 0 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
Tanner Leland DE 13 23.0 3.2% 5.0 1.0 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
Josh Skinner DE 13 14.0 1.9% 2.5 1.5 0 0 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 Gillette DE 9 1.5 0.2% 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Kutzler SLB


14 74.0 10.2% 7.0 2.0 1 1 1 0
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)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Paul Porras KAT 14 63.0 8.7% 3 0 0 6 1 0
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
Phillip Gaines CB 13 30.0 4.1% 4 0 4 9 0 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
Alex Francis CB 14 9.0 1.2% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Corey Frazier S 2 7.0 1.0% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Anthony Canady CB 5'9, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 6.0 0.8% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Broderick Jackson SS 12 5.5 0.8% 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
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%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Chris Boswell 79 64.2 57 1 72.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Chris Boswell 47-49 6-6 100.0% 8-15 53.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Klein Kubiak PR 2 6.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 36
Field Goal Efficiency 39
Punt Return Efficiency 90
Kick Return Efficiency 68
Punt Efficiency 43
Kickoff Efficiency 8
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

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Notre Dame 17
13-Sep at Texas A&M 7
20-Sep Old Dominion NR
27-Sep at Southern Miss 110
4-Oct Hawaii 93
11-Oct at Army 101
25-Oct North Texas 94
1-Nov at Florida International 119
8-Nov UTSA 75
15-Nov at Marshall 59
21-Nov UTEP 117
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
TO Luck/Game +0.3
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.

More from SBNation.com

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.