clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The big 2015 Rice football guide: Exciting, glitchy, and pretty good (again)

New, comments

The 128-team countdown reaches a program that you never would've thought of as a steady winner, but things change.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Cruising altitude

David Bailiff enjoys himself. I'm not sure there's an angry picture of him in existence, at least when he's standing on a football field. They're all relaxed, jovial, or fired up. Case in point:

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Levey-Getty Images

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Bailiff has been coaching since almost the moment he graduated from Southwest Texas State in 1981. He became a branch on Dennis Franchione's tree in 1990, became Gary Patterson's defensive coordinator at TCU when Franchione left for Alabama, and became a head coach in 2004, leading his alma mater for three seasons before taking over at Rice in 2007. The 56-year-old has lived pretty good to date.

Life's gotten better recently, though. When he came to Rice, Todd Graham had just pulled his "leave as soon as you arrive" routine, taking over for Ken Hatfield in 2006, going 7-6 (a six-win improvement over 2005), and leaving for Tulsa in 2007. Bailiff didn't add to the stability early on. Rice's win totals from 2005-09: 1, 7, 3, 10, 2. Bailiff engineered a Texas Bowl win in 2008, the Owls' first bowl victory since the 1954 Cotton Bowl, then oversaw a systemic collapse.

Rice ranked 49th in the F/+ ratings in 2008, plummeted to 118th in 2009, then picked up the pieces: 100th in 2010, 99th in 2011, 4-8 both years. Still, when Rice began 2012 by losing six of eight, it looked like the beginning of the end. The Owls were 12-32 since the Texas Bowl victory, and an experienced squad was failing to peak.

Since losing, 28-24, to eventual Conference USA champion Tulsa in 2012, Rice is 24-9. The Owls won the final five games of 2012, eking out bowl eligibility and thumping Air Force. They then thumped Marshall to win Conference USA in 2013, and after losing offensive difference-makers, they began 2014 0-3 and finished 8-2 with a bowl romp over Fresno State.

Bailiff teams finish strong. They click in November, and they bowl in December. Rice has attended as many bowls under Bailiff (four) as it had in the 53 years before he arrived and has won as many bowls as it had in the previous 69. This isn't a powerhouse program, but it is turning into one of Conference USA's safest bets.

Rice! A steady winner! In football! The school is investing in football, and if Louisiana Tech's defense regresses more than Rice's, Bailiff's Owls might have a shot at another conference title.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 86
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug at Notre Dame 34 17-48 L 4% -40.7 0%
13-Sep at Texas A&M 42 10-38 L 8% -32.6 0%
20-Sep Old Dominion 108 42-45 L 18% -21.3 12%
27-Sep at Southern Miss 110 41-23 W 63% 7.8 98%
4-Oct Hawaii 111 28-14 W 64% 8.1 97%
11-Oct at Army 121 41-21 W 80% 19.4 100%
25-Oct North Texas 125 41-21 W 71% 12.6 97%
1-Nov at Florida International 96 31-17 W 80% 19.8 99%
8-Nov UTSA 109 17-7 W 57% 4.4 89%
15-Nov at Marshall 17 14-41 L 17% -22.7 0%
21-Nov UTEP 90 31-13 W 85% 24.1 99%
29-Nov at Louisiana Tech 35 31-76 L 7% -35.4 0%
24-Dec vs. Fresno State 102 30-6 W 90% 30.6 100%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 29.1 62 30.6 83
Points Per Game 28.8 66 28.5 82

2. Good against bad

Rice is the third straight team we've previewed, joining UTEP and MTSU, that saved its best performances for its worst opponents and got pummeled by the good ones.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 50): 9% (record: 0-4 | avg. score: Opponent 51, Rice 18)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. everyone else): 68% (record: 8-1 | avg. score: Rice 34, Opponent 19)

The offense was strangely consistent -- 5.6 yards per play against Notre Dame, 5.6 against Southern Miss, 5.9 against North Texas, 5.2 against Louisiana Tech -- but the defense wasn't capable of slowing down strong offensive attacks. The Owls played five offenses in the Off. S&P+ top 60 and eight that ranked worse than 85th. The difference was stark.

  • Rice Defense (vs. Off. S&P+ top 60): 8.38 yards per play, 49.6 points per game
  • Rice Defense (vs. everyone else): 4.07 yards per play, 15.3 points per game

Now, you expect a defense to do better against bad offenses, but these numbers go well beyond that. If Rice could craft an athleticism advantage on defense, the Owls completely dominated. But against offenses with a pulse, they were doomed. They held Hawaii, North Texas, FIU, and Fresno State all under four yards per play, but they couldn't keep Notre Dame and Louisiana Tech under nine per play. That's startling.

That an athleticism advantage was important is a scary thing because most of Rice's most athletic defenders are gone: ends Brian Nordstrom and Zach Patt (combined: 31 tackles for loss, 17 sacks), tackles Dylan Klare and Christian Covington, linebacker James Radcliffe, corner Bryce Callahan, safeties Jaylon Finner and Julius White. The defense is rebuilding, and it already had some question marks.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.94 22 IsoPPP+ 102.6 63
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.3% 68 Succ. Rt. + 97.2 77
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.9 69 Def. FP+ 101.0 53
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 52 Redzone S&P+ 98.6 67
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.6 ACTUAL 12 -3.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 68 67 77 63
RUSHING 59 99 100 101
PASSING 63 35 41 28
Standard Downs 96 97 87
Passing Downs 21 35 17
Q1 Rk 78 1st Down Rk 76
Q2 Rk 69 2nd Down Rk 92
Q3 Rk 84 3rd Down Rk 56
Q4 Rk 62

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Driphus Jackson 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7000 191 331 2842 24 8 57.7% 27 7.5% 7.5
Tyler Stehling 6'5, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 19 159 1 0 63.2% 1 5.0% 7.7
Nate German 6'2, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038
J.T. Granato 6'3, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8373
Jackson Tyner 6'4, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8199

3. Trusting Driphus

Bailiff has lost offensive assistants (usually to bigger jobs), but his offense's philosophy has remained similar: run a lot on standard downs, run a lot on passing downs.

In 2012, with Taylor McHargue at quarterback, the Owls ran 3 percent more than the national average on standard downs and 13 percent more on passing downs. In 2013, it was 9 percent and 14 percent.

But after a two-year internship, Driphus Jackson took over, and with new offensive co-coordinators (veteran Bailiff assistants Larry Edmondson and Billy Lynch), the Owls ran more than ever on standard downs (71 percent, 11 percent above the average) but threw far more on second- or third-and-long.

With Jackson's mobility serving as a threat on the boundaries, Edmondson and Lynch asked him to make plays, and he did. The run game wasn't particularly strong -- leading rushers Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard combined to average 4.2 yards with almost no huge plays -- and Rice ranked just 96th in Standard Downs S&P+. But they ranked 21st on passing downs thanks to Jackson's play-making ability and a foursome of exciting receivers.

Jackson takes a lot of sacks, as do most mobile, get-him-on-the-perimeter QBs. But he makes smart decisions with the ball, he doesn't fumble, and he keeps Rice ahead of the chains. Watching him develop, from a star turn in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl to another dominant performance against Fresno State in Hawaii, has been a lot of fun. He's tough (he separated his non-throwing shoulder against ODU, popped it back in, and kept playing), and he's ready for a big year, at least as long as a new big-play threat can emerge.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jowan Davis RB 5'7, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 245 956 6 3.9 3.5 33.9% 2 1
Darik Dillard RB 5'10, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 134 652 11 4.9 3.9 38.1% 0 0
Driphus Jackson QB 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7000 94 556 1 5.9 5.2 47.9% 2 0
Brandon Hamilton RB 5'11, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8207 24 92 1 3.8 1.6 37.5% 2 0
Luke Turner RB 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200 23 94 3 4.1 8.3 21.7% 0 0
Tyler Stehling QB 6'5, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 7 4 0 0.6 1.8 57.1% 1 0
Samuel Stewart RB 5'9, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8485
Nahshon Ellerbe RB 5'9, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8104







4. A loaded backfield

Last year's backfield returns intact, from Jackson to every primary running back. The offensive line might be a question mark, as it must replace three starters, but there are juniors, seniors, and some former three-star recruits (sophomore Kenneth Thompson, for instance) ready to fill in.

In terms of returning personnel, there's no reason to think Rice won't still be run-heavy on first down. But I'm curious about the ball distribution.

Jowan Davis looked great early in the year (53 carries, 281 yards against ODU and Southern Miss) but averaged 3.6 yards per carry over the final nine games. Darik Dillard had a wonderful three-game span against Hawaii, Army, and North Texas (45 carries, 294 yards), then stumbled. Luke Turner had six carries for 42 yards against Fresno State. And two three-star youngsters (redshirt freshman Samuel Stewart, true freshman Nahshon Ellerbe) are waiting their turn.

Bailiff and his staff are confident enough in these backs that they are tinkering with new positions for a pair of three-star redshirt freshmen (Austin Walter is apparently moving to slot receiver, and his twin brother Aston is trying out at cornerback), but is there a go-to guy? And while Jackson is awesome on passing downs, can the run game prevent him from having to do quite as much?

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jordan Taylor WR
82 54 842 65.9% 24.5% 59.8% 10.3 192 10.3 116.9
Dennis Parks WR 6'2, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7967 57 29 389 50.9% 17.0% 50.9% 6.8 21 6.9 54.0
Mario Hull WR
55 32 621 58.2% 16.4% 45.5% 11.3 226 11.6 86.2
Zach Wright WR 6'1, 200 Jr. NR NR 41 25 299 61.0% 12.2% 48.8% 7.3 -6 7.0 41.5
Darik Dillard RB 5'10, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 21 17 163 81.0% 6.3% 28.6% 7.8 -34 9.6 22.6
James Mayden WR 6'2, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 17 7 229 41.2% 5.1% 52.9% 13.5 135 13.6 31.8
Luke Turner RB 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200 14 10 122 71.4% 4.2% 42.9% 8.7 3 9.6 16.9
Jowan Davis RB 5'7, 200 Jr. 2 stars 0.7893 14 13 108 92.9% 4.2% 71.4% 7.7 -40 7.0 15.0
Robby Wells III TE 6'6, 250 Jr. 2 stars 0.7993 9 3 45 33.3% 2.7% 66.7% 5.0 2 4.5 6.2
Temi Alaka WR 6'2, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7993 7 4 56 57.1% 2.1% 42.9% 8.0 7 9.0 7.8
Cole Hunt TE 6'5, 250 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8131 6 4 47 66.7% 1.8% 66.7% 7.8 -1 7.3 6.5
Darrion Pollard WR 5'8, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8100 5 2 24 40.0% 1.5% 20.0% 4.8 -3 2.5 3.3
Cameron Decell WR 6'5, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 3 2 41 66.7% 0.9% 0.0% 13.7 17 N/A 5.7
Connor Cella TE 6'3, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 3 1 5 33.3% 0.9% 66.7% 1.7 -9 2.1 0.7
Reid Mitchell TE 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8150
Austin Walter WR 5'7, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8250
Parker Smith WR 6'3, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956
Jeremy Jones WR 6'5, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8274








5. The big-play guys are gone

The line is the biggest question, but replacing Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull won't be the easiest thing in the world. Dennis Parks and Zach Wright were solid possession receivers, but at a combined 17.0 yards per catch, Taylor and Hull were the big-play guys.

James Mayden made an impression in limited opportunities -- he caught only seven passes, but three went for 53, 81, and 69 yards -- and going by 247Sports Composite ratings, there are a few different three-star options here. Odds are good that Jackson will have the weapons, but that's not 100 percent.

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 92.4 2.62 3.59 37.2% 72.9% 20.6% 87.4 5.4% 9.0%
Rank 102 106 38 86 26 82 85 81 88
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Nico Carlson LG 38 2014 2nd All-CUSA
Caleb Williams RT 6'3, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 39
Andrew Reue RG 6'5, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 26
Ian Gray LT
16
Matt Simonette C
13
Spencer Stanley C 6'3, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7833 1
John Poehlmann RT 6'6, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 0
Brandon Dawkins LT 6'7, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8019 0
Kenneth Thompson LG 6'4, 285 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 0
Peter Godber RG 6'3, 300 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7895 0
Trey Martin C 6'2, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 0
Hunter Ponder OL 6'4, 260 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 0
Sam Pierce OL 6'6, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Cory Klingler OL 6'4, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959
Isaiah Edwards OL 6'6, 380 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8140
Crockett Mokry OL 6'4, 320 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.94 110 IsoPPP+ 89.3 103
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.0% 63 Succ. Rt. + 94.1 92
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.5 34 Off. FP+ 101.0 51
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 105 Redzone S&P+ 95.2 84
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.3 ACTUAL 20.0 -4.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 55 97 89 103
RUSHING 46 84 98 81
PASSING 79 106 87 113
Standard Downs 58 63 65
Passing Downs 121 120 122
Q1 Rk 99 1st Down Rk 90
Q2 Rk 90 2nd Down Rk 81
Q3 Rk 97 3rd Down Rk 102
Q4 Rk 36

6. Changing the script

Rice was great against bad offenses and horrific against good ones, but no matter what, the Owls' aggression forced opponents to change the script. Rice attacked the run enough on standard downs that opponents chose to pass 44 percent of the time, 4 percent more than the national average. On passing downs, Rice went after the quarterback enough that opponents ran 3 percent more than average.

Opponents had to counterpunch to find success. That worked out just fine for some, but most Conference USA offenses struggled to cope.

Bailiff and defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond might have to play it more conservatively. They no longer have a spectacular pass-rushing duo, defensive tackle depth, or experience in the secondary. It will be interesting to see if they change their level of aggression, or if they start by attacking as much, then making adjustments as results dictate.

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 91.8 2.82 3.68 40.9% 63.2% 18.4% 141.7 7.0% 11.7%
Rank 99 48 101 90 41 78 10 23 11
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brian Nordstrom DE
13 43.5 6.6% 19.5 7.5 0 3 1 0
Zach Patt DE
10 28.5 4.3% 11.5 9.5 0 2 3 0
Stuart Mouchantaf (2013) DT 6'4, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) N/A 8 26.0 3.6% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dylan Klare DT
13 22.0 3.4% 8.0 5.0 0 1 0 0
Graysen Schantz DE 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 11 18.5 2.8% 7.0 3.0 0 0 2 0
Christian Covington DT
7 17.0 2.6% 3.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
Trey Martin NT 6'2, 285 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 11 14.0 2.1% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Grant Peterson DE 6'6, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 13 8.0 1.2% 3.0 2.5 0 1 0 0
Ross Winship NT 6'4, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 12 7.5 1.1% 2.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Cody Henessee DT 6'2, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7800 9 6.5 1.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brian Womac DE 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954 6 5.0 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Connor Johnson DE 6'2, 240 So. NR NR 7 4.5 0.7% 2.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Trevor Jones DT
13 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brad Luvender NT 6'3, 260 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906
Parker Hanusa DE 6'4, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Brady Wright DE 6'3, 245 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683
Zach Abercrumbia DT 6'2, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535
Carl Thompson DT 6'3, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8403
Blain Padgett DE 6'5, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8212

7. Starting from scratch on the pass rush

Nordstrom and Patt were one of the best mid-major pass-rush combinations in the country, Dylan Klare added five sacks from the tackle position, and while he missed half of 2014, Christian Covington still declared for the NFL Draft after dominating in 2013. Plus, linebacker James Radcliffe, perhaps Rice's best run defender (6.5 non-sack tackles for loss), graduated.

To say the least, that's a lot to lose, especially considering how important the line was for Rice's identity.

As with the receiving corps, there are some exciting new options, but they still have to prove themselves. Sophomore end Graysen Schantz and senior Grant Peterson combined for 26.5 tackles as backups, but 10 were behind the line, and they forced three fumbles. Tackles Trey Martin and Ross Winship saw playing time and made a few plays in Covington's absence, and 2013 starter Stuart Mouchantaf returns after missing 2014 with injury. Plus, three of the most highly touted incoming freshmen are linemen.

There are enough exciting underclassmen to assume good things in 2016, or maybe even the second half of 2015, but a slow start is a distinct possibility.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alex Lyons SLB 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 13 57.5 8.8% 5.0 3.0 0 1 0 0
James Radcliffe WLB
12 43.0 6.6% 6.5 0.0 1 2 0 0
Nick Elder SLB 6'0, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 31.0 4.7% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tabari McGaskey WLB 6'0, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 13 20.0 3.1% 2.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Emmanuel Ellerbee LB 6'0, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694 13 9.0 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Nick Uretsky WLB 6'0, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7783 12 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Ballard LB 6'0, 215 So. NR NR 13 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
DJ Green LB 6'2, 235 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8460 13 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jaylon Finner KAT
13 61.0 9.3% 0.5 0 0 5 2 0
Bryce Callahan CB
13 41.5 6.3% 4 1 2 7 1 1
Gabe Baker SS
12 40.5 6.2% 2 0 0 2 0 0
Julius White FS
11 30.5 4.7% 5 0 0 7 0 0
Ryan Pollard CB 5'8, 175 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 13 25.5 3.9% 1 0 2 8 0 0
Malcolm Hill SS
13 22.5 3.4% 2 1 1 5 0 1
Cole Thomas S 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241 13 16.5 2.5% 0 0 0 2 2 0
Destri White KAT 6'0, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115 12 16.5 2.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
J.T. Blasingame CB 5'9, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7100 9 13.0 2.0% 0 0 1 2 0 0
Garrett Fuhrman FS 5'8, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 9.5 1.4% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Zach Espinosa S 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7800 12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
V.J. Banks CB 6'1, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 10 3.0 0.5% 0 0 1 2 0 0
Adrian Jones S
6 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aston Walter CB 5'8, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8360
J.T. Ibe S 6'0, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7957
Christian Bertrand S 6'0, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7885







8. Really starting from scratch in the secondary

Operating from a Gary Patterson-style 4-2-5 defense and generating a hell of a pass rush without blitzing, Rice was able to use its safeties aggressively. Jaylon Finner, Gabe Baker, Julius White, and Malcolm Hill combined for 9.5 tackles for loss and 20 passes defensed, and cornerback Bryce Callahan pitched in with four and nine, respectively. They're all gone.

Corner Ryan Pollard does return, and three-star sophomore Cole Thomas hinted at play-making ability in a reserve role. (I'm using words like "hinted" and "potential" a lot, aren't I?) Destri White was a three-star 247 recruit, and redshirt freshmen Aston Walter and J.T. Ibe have mounds of athleticism.

But again, five of last year's top six are gone, and the new guys won't benefit from the same level of pass rush. And in the first five games of the season, Rice will have to face both Baylor's and Western Kentucky's offenses.

There aren't many good offenses in Conference USA, and after the midway point, Rice will find the level of competition much more to its liking. I do figure this will be a decent November defense, one that will have as much athleticism as any recent Rice D, but there will be growing pains. And Baylor and WKU might combine for 110 points.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
James Farrimond 6'0, 220 Sr. 68 42.0 8 12 14 38.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
James Hairston 74 63.6 47 2 63.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
James Farrimond 6'0, 220 Sr. 25-25 7-7 100.0% 1-4 25.0%
James Hairston 22-23 5-6 83.3% 0-3 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Brandon Hamilton KR 5'11, 210 Jr. 16 22.8 0
Darik Dillard KR 5'10, 205 Jr. 5 16.8 0
Bryce Callahan PR 11 7.0 0
Mario Hull PR 2 11.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 93
Field Goal Efficiency 102
Punt Return Efficiency 78
Kick Return Efficiency 67
Punt Efficiency 72
Kickoff Efficiency 76
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 49

9. Automatic inside 40

Rice wasn't great or terrible, but in James Farrimond, it does appear the Owls have a decent punter and a place-kicker who's automatic inside 40 yards. Farrimond was only 1-for-4 on longer kicks, but he didn't miss a shorter one. You can work with that.

And if Farrimond improves his punting numbers and anybody from a large crop of speedy freshmen or redshirt freshmen emerges as a return threat, Rice could see much more favorable field position.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Wagner NR
12-Sep at Texas 53
19-Sep at North Texas 125
26-Sep at Baylor 10
3-Oct Western Kentucky 50
10-Oct at Florida Atlantic 100
24-Oct Army 121
31-Oct Louisiana Tech 35
7-Nov at UTEP 90
14-Nov Southern Miss 110
21-Nov at UTSA 109
28-Nov Charlotte NR
Five-Year F/+ Rk -17.5% (95)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 92 / 83
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 8 / 8.7
2014 TO Luck/Game -0.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (6, 4)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.9 (0.1)

10. Life as a proven entity

The mind pretty quickly adapts to a new reality. That can be good or bad. I'm thinking of Rice as a potential West favorite despite the fact that it is replacing two big-play receivers, three offensive line starters, four disruptive defensive linemen, and almost its entire secondary. But if a less-proven team like FAU or UTEP were to lose the same amount, we might be predicting a mini-collapse.

We're probably going to be right, though. There aren't enough offenses good enough to take total advantage of Rice's vulnerable defense, and some teams with potentially strong Os (FAU, Charlotte) have all sorts of defensive questions. Plus, while so much of the conference is looking to rebound from an awful offensive season or break in a new quarterback, Rice has Jackson and an experienced skill corps. Though he's only started for one season, Jackson is one of the conference's most proven entities, especially considering the amount he was asked to shoulder last year.

Louisiana Tech is probably the favorite in the West, but Rice gets probably its two toughest conference opponents at home (WKU, La. Tech), and if the Owls improve as they typically do, they could again cruise through November and hammer a fellow mid-major in Hawaii or Albuquerque. (Insert stock photo of David Bailiff grinning and wearing a lei here.)

Assuming success from Rice might still feel strange for anybody who paid attention to college football between about 1965 and 2005, but here we are.