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1. A loud thud
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.
The first two words of last year's Rice preview were "cruising altitude." Hard jobs remain hard, but when you see what David Bailiff did at Rice from 2012-14, you can convince yourself that someone has figured out how to make a hard job easier.
Rice had two winning seasons between 1998 and 2011; after one of them (7-6 in 2006), head coach Todd Graham left. After the other (10-3 in 2008), the Owls kept their head coach (Bailiff) but won eight games in three years. But just at the very moment it looked like Bailiff's tenure was going to finish falling apart, the plane magically turned around. Rice lost key contributors after the conference title run of 2013 but managed to still win eight games in 2014. Once you've survived a transition in recruiting cycles and continued to win, it's really easy to convince yourself that the flight's going to be nice and smooth for a while.
Rice went 5-7 in 2015, and a three-game drop in the win column doesn't adequately describe how bad the Owls were for much of the season. Steady quarterback Driphus Jackson became terribly mistake-prone. An iffy special teams unit got worse. And an iffy defense completely bottomed out. According to the advanced stats, Rice had one of the four worst defenses in the country, and an offense with decent potential couldn't play consistently enough to win shootouts.
The result: Baylor 70, Rice 17. Western Kentucky 49, Rice 10. Louisiana Tech 42, Rice 17. Southern Miss 65, Rice 10. UTSA 34, Rice 24.
Against teams with any sort of offensive firepower, Rice was an owl fighting a pterodactyl. That the Owls managed to win five games tells you that a) there are a lot of bad teams in Conference USA and b) if you didn't have offensive firepower, you might be in trouble.
Injuries and extreme youth played a role in the defensive collapse, and while the offense will be led by a new quarterback, you could certainly make the case that there's a rebound in store for Rice in 2016. But you can lose your cruising altitude in a heartbeat in college football, and now we have to ask some tough questions about the long-term prospects of this program.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 123 | Final S&P+ Rk: 119|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|19-Sep||at North Texas||126||38-24||W||43%||93%||+7.4||+6.0|
|10-Oct||at Florida Atlantic||96||27-26||W||37%||54%||+25.3||+4.5|
|Points Per Game||26.1||87||35.8||108|
2. Bad against good (again)
Even at its highest moments, Rice under Bailiff has mainly punched its weight. The Owls are built to battle Conference USA foes, and power conference foes tend to have their way with them. Since 2012, they have played nine power conference opponents, and if you remove two games against Kansas (for obvious reasons), they are 0-7 with an average loss of 49-19. They're 30-15 against everybody else, with a conference title.
Granted, building your team as a welterweight that might occasionally get mauled by cruiserweights doesn't inspire the imagination. But it tends to lead to quite a few wins when there are mostly welterweights and lightweights on the schedule.
In 2014, Rice's average percentile performance was 74 percent in eight wins and 11 percent in five losses. Just about every team plays better in wins than losses, obviously, but the difference for Rice has been stark. It was no different in 2015.
- 5 wins -- Average percentile performance: 49% | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: +15.9 PPG
- 7 losses -- Average percentile performance: 8% | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: -12.6 PPG
The defense was too young and thin, and the team's ceiling was therefore not as high (and the floor was a little easier to find). But it was the same phenomenon. Perhaps no team in FBS is this stark: if Rice can match you athletically, you're toast. If the Owls can't, you're going to win by four touchdowns.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.5%||44||Succ. Rt. +||99.0||77|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.3||57||Def. FP+||31.4||100|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.2||93||Redzone S&P+||97.4||86|
|Q1 Rk||98||1st Down Rk||108|
|Q2 Rk||94||2nd Down Rk||104|
|Q3 Rk||123||3rd Down Rk||105|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tyler Stehling||6'6, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||24||48||320||1||2||50.0%||4||7.7%||5.5|
|Nate German||6'2, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8038|
|J.T. Granato||6'3, 215||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8373|
|Jackson Tyner||6'5, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8199|
|Sam Glaesmann||6'3, 206||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8048|
3. Now what?
When Rice lost unique dual-threat Taylor McHargue to graduation following the 2013 conference title run, it was fair to worry about the Owls' offense. McHargue threw for 2,345 yards as a senior while also providing a pounding presence in the run game. But in 2014, his successor, Driphus Jackson, threw for 2,842 yards and provided even more mobility.
The draw of Jackson in 2014 was he provided a dual-threat skill set without a ton of mistakes. He fumbled only twice, he threw only eight interceptions, and while his 7.5 percent sack rate was high, it wasn't dramatically so.
Granted, Jackson threw one fewer interception in 2015, but the sack rate rose to 9.7 percent, and he fumbled 12 times, more than anybody else in FBS. He was still a solid run threat (45 percent of his non-sack carries gained at least five yards) and completed nearly 59 percent of his passes, but his production was, at the very least, replaceable.
That's good, as long as you have someone who can replace it. Rice is not a recruiting juggernaut, but it appears there could be a pretty fun battle to replace Jackson. Per the 247Sports Composite, Rice will pit five three-star quarterbacks against each other, and while senior Tyler Stehling probably holds the edge simply because he's been the second-stringer for each of the last two years, his production hasn't been impressive enough to simply hand him the job. He completed only 50 percent of his passes last year, got sacked nearly as much as Jackson, and provided almost no run threat. If someone like J.T. Granato, the most highly-touted QB of the bunch, were able to put a nice spring performance together, the job could be up for grabs.
|Darik Dillard||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||135||698||5||5.2||3.4||44.4%||2||2|
|Samuel Stewart||RB||5'9, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8485||95||388||4||4.1||3.4||30.5%||3||2|
|Austin Walter||RB||5'8, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8250||75||437||1||5.8||5.2||45.3%||2||0|
|Jowan Davis||RB||5'7, 195||Sr.||2 stars||0.7893||71||297||1||4.2||3.4||33.8%||1||1|
|Tyler Stehling||QB||6'6, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||5||11||0||2.2||1.9||40.0%||2||1|
|Nate German||WR||6'2, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8038||4||78||1||19.5||29.8||50.0%||0||0|
|Nahshon Ellerbe||RB||5'9, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8104|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Zach Wright||WR||6'1, 205||Sr.||NR||NR||71||39||554||54.9%||19.8%||7.8||52.1%||40.8%||1.86|
|Temi Alaka||WR||6'2, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993||44||27||303||61.4%||12.3%||6.9||54.5%||43.2%||1.41|
|Nate German||WR||6'2, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8038||31||18||379||58.1%||8.7%||12.2||58.1%||54.8%||2.19|
|James Mayden||WR||6'3, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685||28||15||123||53.6%||7.8%||4.4||39.3%||35.7%||1.18|
|Parker Smith||WR||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||23||16||135||69.6%||6.4%||5.9||56.5%||60.9%||0.83|
|Connor Cella||TE||6'3, 260||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859||21||13||209||61.9%||5.9%||10.0||23.8%||52.4%||1.68|
|Cole Hunt||TE||6'7, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8131||17||9||71||52.9%||4.7%||4.2||52.9%||29.4%||1.27|
|Darik Dillard||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||11||7||107||63.6%||3.1%||9.7||54.5%||63.6%||1.47|
|Samuel Stewart||RB||5'9, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8485||11||8||93||72.7%||3.1%||8.5||54.5%||45.5%||1.85|
|Lance Wright||WR||6'3, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7683||9||6||49||66.7%||2.5%||5.4||66.7%||66.7%||0.72|
|Austin Walter||RB||5'8, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8250||8||5||8||62.5%||2.2%||1.0||62.5%||12.5%||0.85|
|Jowan Davis||RB||5'7, 195||Sr.||2 stars||0.7893||7||5||29||71.4%||2.0%||4.1||57.1%||28.6%||1.31|
|Cameron Decell||WR||6'4, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7300||4||3||11||75.0%||1.1%||2.8||100.0%||25.0%||0.94|
|Robby Wells III||TE||6'6, 250||Sr.||2 stars||0.7993|
|Aston Walter||WR||5'8, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8360|
4. Always be closing (drives)
If the quarterback position is stable, skill position depth could carry the offense. Rice returns four running backs who carried the ball at least 70 times last year and seven players who were targeted by at least 17 passes.
The Owls get both their leading rusher (Darik Dillard) and receiver (Zach Wright) back, and some of last year's reserves are intriguing. Sophomore Austin Walter flashed big-play potential in rushing 12 times for 107 yards against Wagner, 10 for 65 against Southern Miss, and 12 for 78 against Charlotte. Meanwhile, Nate German moved from quarterback to receiver midseason and averaged 21 yards per catch over about three catches per game.
Experience in the receiving corps is especially important, and Rice has it. And the Owls have to hope that overall experience will lead to better execution and consistency, even with a younger QB. Despite one fewer game, Rice committed 10 more turnovers in 2015 than 2014, and while some of that stemmed from negative turnovers luck, not all of it did. Fumbles were devastating; nearly as devastating was awful redzone execution.
Rice ranked 36th in Redzone S&P+ when winning the conference in 2013 but ranked just 86th last year. The Owls both created fewer scoring opportunities and did a worse job of converting them. That tends to be a bad combination.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Andrew Reue||C||10||36||2015 1st All-CUSA|
|Calvin Anderson||LT||6'5, 260||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||12||12|
|Peter Godber||LG||6'3, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7895||12||12|
|Trey Martin||RG||6'2, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7719||12||12|
|Spencer Stanley||C||6'3, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7833||2||3|
|Connor Patterson||RG||6'4, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8101||1||1|
|Sam Pierce||LT||6'6, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893||1||0|
|Kenneth Thompson||LG||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8423||0||0|
|Brandon Dawkins||LT||6'7, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8019||0||0|
|Cory Klingler||C||6'4, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7959||0||0|
|Isaiah Edwards||OL||6'8, 380||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8140|
|Crockett Mokry||OL||6'4, 315||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685|
|Joseph Dill||OL||6'5, 376||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8038|
|Uzoma Osuji||OL||6'6, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7894|
5. Another solid line, at least
The offensive line seemed to do its part, at least in run blocking. Blocking for a scrambler is often tricky, and the sack rates were abysmal, but Rice did rank eighth in power success rate and 26th in stuff rate. The Owls kept defenders out of the backfield when running the ball, and that's a pretty important thing for a run-first offense.
Three of five starters return up front, as do two other players with starting experience. The Owls certainly have Conference USA-level size in the trenches -- every returnee from last year's two-deep goes at least 290 pounds, and Bailiff has signed massive human beings in each of the last two recruiting classes (380-pound Isaiah Edwards in 2015, 376-pound Joseph Dill in 2016). Losing a three-year starter (center Andrew Reue) and a four-year starter (Caleb Williams) isn't a good thing, but overall, size, depth, and offensive line coaching all seem to be in good shape.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.0%||101||Succ. Rt. +||85.1||120|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.4||77||Off. FP+||27.1||111|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.4||127||Redzone S&P+||79.4||127|
|Q1 Rk||127||1st Down Rk||121|
|Q2 Rk||128||2nd Down Rk||122|
|Q3 Rk||107||3rd Down Rk||127|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Derek Brown||DE||6'3, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100||12||36.5||6.1%||6.0||4.0||0||0||1||0|
|Brian Womac||DE||6'2, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7954||12||29.0||4.9%||11.5||4.0||0||1||2||0|
|Preston Gordon||DT||6'1, 280||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7652||12||19.0||3.2%||6.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Graysen Schantz (2014)||DE||6'3, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893||11||18.5||2.8%||7.0||3.0||0||0||2||0|
|Blain Padgett||DE||6'5, 250||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8212||8||11.0||1.8%||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Brady Wright||DE||6'3, 240||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7683||12||10.5||1.8%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Carl Thompson||DT||6'3, 275||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8403||10||8.5||1.4%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Abercrumbia||NT||6'2, 280||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535||11||8.5||1.4%||1.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Grant Peterson (2014)||DT||6'5, 260||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||13||8.0||1.2%||3.0||2.5||0||1||0||0|
|Cody Henessee||DT||6'2, 265||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7800||9||6.5||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Parker Hanusa||DE||6'4, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||10||3.5||0.6%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Paine Matiscik||DE||5'8, 220||Jr.||NR||NR||5||1.5||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brad Luvender||NT||6'3, 260||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7906|
|Will Phillips||DE||6'3, 237||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Javante Hubbard||DE||6'0, 226||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926|
|Elijah Garcia||DT||6'5, 270||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
6. A pass rush makes the world go round
7.1 yards per play. 7.1! That's what Rice allowed over the course of the 2015 season. The Owls allowed 10.2 against Baylor, 9.5 against Southern Miss, and 7.7 against (gulp) North Texas. They were mediocre at best against most mid-major competition and helpless against good offenses. They ranked 111th or worse in virtually every opponent-adjusted defensive category above; they had the worst passing downs defense in the country, the worst second-quarter defense, the second-worst first quarter defense, the second-worst redzone defense, and the second-worst defense in terms of big-play prevention.
That's a lot of things to be bad at, and it cannot just be explained by youth and injury. But those two things certainly played a role. Rice got only one game out of end Graysen Schantz, and combined with the graduation of both Brian Nordstrom and Zach Patt (combined: 17 sacks) from 2014's top-10 pass rush, it left the Owls completely undermanned from an attacking perspective. Rice's Havoc Rate fell from 19.3 percent to 13.5, and when you attack and come up short, you tend to get burned.
But Rice got burned a lot in 2014, too. The Owls allowed 3.1 gains of 30-plus yards per game that year and did so again in 2015. The difference was that they weren't countering big plays with big plays of their own. And the biggest drop-off came in the pass rush.
Rice had to play six freshmen on the line last year, and while pure talent trumps the need for experience up front, a total lack of experience will obviously hurt you from a pure development standpoint. With these freshmen becoming sophomores and both Schantz and Grant Peterson returning from injury, the competition in practice will improve, at least.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Alex Lyons||SLB||6'1, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100||12||58.0||9.7%||5.5||1.5||0||4||0||0|
|Tabari McGaskey||WLB||6'0, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7600||12||41.0||6.9%||4.5||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Emmanuel Ellerbee||SLB||6'1, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7694||12||20.5||3.4%||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|DJ Green||SLB||6'1, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8460||12||7.5||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nick Uretsky||WLB||6'0, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7783||11||7.5||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Ballard||LB||6'0, 215||Jr.||NR||NR||12||1.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Uzoma Akunebu||LB||6'0, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7693|
7. Traffic cops
At the defense's relative best, Rice's linebackers serve as traffic control officers, reacting to plays and stopping those who get through the line. The Owls rely on linemen to generate havoc.
Linebacker production remained static in 2015 -- Rice LBs made 13.5 tackles for loss and defensed seven passes (in 2014: 13.5 TFLs, nine PDs). Alex Lyons, Tabari McGaskey, and company needed to do more to offset the loss of production up front, but that's not how this 4-2-5 scheme works. Only TCU's Gary Patterson is able to balance linebacker havoc with big-play prevention effectively.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|J.P. Thompson||KAT||6'0, 185||So.||NR||NR||12||38.5||6.5%||2||0||0||2||1||0|
|Destri White||KAT||6'0, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115||12||37.5||6.3%||2.5||0||0||2||1||0|
|J.T. Ibe||FS||6'0, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7957||12||32.5||5.5%||2.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|J.T. Blasingame||CB||5'9, 175||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7100||10||26.5||4.5%||0||0||0||4||0||0|
|V.J. Banks||CB||6'1, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||12||24.0||4.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Justin Bickham||CB||6'1, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685||12||11.5||1.9%||0.5||0||0||5||0||0|
|Brandon Douglas||CB||5'9, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||11||10.5||1.8%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Jorian Clark||CB||5'10, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685||10||9.0||1.5%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cole Thomas||S||6'1, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241||5||8.5||1.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Brandon Hamilton||S||5'11, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8207|
|Christian Bertrand||DB||5'11, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7885|
|D'Angelo Ellis||CB||5'11, 159||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7885|
8. Experience, at least
The Rice secondary was nearly as inexperienced as the defensive line, and as we're learning, experience in the defensive backfield is vital. The Owls had to replace five of their top six DBs heading into the season, then had to deal with injuries and shuffling as well -- Cole Thomas (the second-leading DB heading into the season) missed seven games, corners J.T. Blasingame and Jorian Clark missed two, and others missed at least one. That meant 12 players logging at least 8.5 tackles, eight of whom were freshmen or sophomores.
Nine of those 12 are scheduled to return this year, however, and converted running back Brandon Hamilton might be more capable of contributing as well. There is depth of experience, at least, and the pass rush should improve at least a little bit. That only matters so much if there isn't enough pure talent or athleticism, but it will still help. It's almost impossible for Rice's defense to be as bad this year, especially against the pass, and experience could lead to decent improvement.
|Jack Fox||6'1, 200||So.||51||63.7||25||1||49.0%|
|Cameron Decell||6'4, 200||Sr.||6||65.0||2||0||33.3%|
|Hayden Tobola||6'1, 180||So.||28-28||6-10||60.0%||2-3||66.7%|
|Jack Fox||6'1, 200||So.||12-12||1-2||50.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Austin Walter||KR||5'8, 190||So.||30||21.7||0|
|Samuel Stewart||KR||5'9, 200||So.||5||27.4||0|
|Samuel Stewart||PR||5'9, 200||So.||9||7.4||0|
|V.J. Banks||PR||6'1, 185||Jr.||4||7.8||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||98|
|Field Goal Efficiency||121|
|Punt Return Success Rate||73|
|Kick Return Success Rate||25|
|Punt Success Rate||46|
|Kickoff Success Rate||71|
9. Lots of kickoffs? Advantage: Rice
Rice employed two freshman place-kickers, a freshman in kickoffs, and freshman punt and kick returners. That the Owls fell only from 93rd to 106th in Brian Fremeau's special teams efficiency ratings and ranked 98th in mine may have been a bit of an upset.
With punter James Farrimond gone, Rice loses a known quantity, but the Owls were decent in both kick returns (with Austin Walter) and kickoff coverage (with Jack Fox's kicks). Considering the high-scoring nature of most Rice games, that's probably a good thing.
Of course, Rice still needs to figure out the place-kicking situation. Fox and Hayden Tobola were both fine on PATs but drastically inconsistent inside 40 yards.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|3-Sep||at Western Kentucky||45||-22.6||10%|
|1-Oct||at Southern Miss||72||-17.8||15%|
|22-Oct||Prairie View A&M||NR||19.8||87%|
|29-Oct||at Louisiana Tech||84||-14.5||20%|
|Projected wins: 4.7|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-21.3% (101)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||112 / 91|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-12 / -7.3|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-1.8|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||66% (51%, 80%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||4.9 (0.1)|
10. So many tossups
Rice is projected to have a 20 percent or worse chance of winning in four of its 2016 games and has an 87 percent chance of beating Prairie View A&M on October 22. Considering the Owls' history of getting whomped by superior teams and handling inferior teams pretty easily, we'll say that means they pretty safely go 1-4 in those games.
So that leaves seven games to define the season, and those seven could go in countless directions. In each, Rice has between a 45 and 68 percent chance of winning; if the Owls are a little bit better than their No. 119 projection (a distinct possibility considering they've been 95th or better in four of the last six seasons), they could easily go 5-2 or better in those seven and return to a bowl after last season's absence. But if sloppiness continues to hinder the offense after a quarterback change, and if the defense's primary 2015 issue turns out to be a lack of talent instead of a lack of experience, then another four- to five-win season (or worse) is possible..
David Bailiff now faces the burden of proof in a way that he hasn't since about October 2012. Teams rebound from one bad season all the time, and it's conceivable that Bailiff's Owls will do exactly that. But they lost the faith of the numbers in 2015, and there's never a guarantee of a rebound. This just became a difficult job again.