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Can Rice Owls football bounce back from 2015's sudden, drastic collapse?

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David Bailiff has a lot of work to do to get Rice back to its days contending for conference titles.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Wagner N/A 56-16 W 62% 100% +26.3
12-Sep at Texas 68 28-42 L 5% 1% +4.3 +1.5
19-Sep at North Texas 126 38-24 W 43% 93% +7.4 +6.0
26-Sep at Baylor 14 17-70 L 1% 0% -19.3 -18.0
3-Oct Western Kentucky 15 10-49 L 4% 0% -15.5 -31.5
10-Oct at Florida Atlantic 96 27-26 W 37% 54% +25.3 +4.5
24-Oct Army 108 38-31 W 43% 77% +6.5 -2.5
30-Oct Louisiana Tech 57 17-42 L 5% 0% -4.7 -12.0
6-Nov at UTEP 125 21-24 L 31% 59% -8.7 -10.0
14-Nov Southern Miss 56 10-65 L 1% 0% -42.3 -47.5
21-Nov at UTSA 111 24-34 L 11% 10% -2.0 -7.0
28-Nov Charlotte 124 27-7 W 58% 96% +14.2 +9.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.5 101 41.4 125
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.17 110 IsoPPP+ 91.1 99
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.0 ACTUAL 22 +1.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 62 94 77 99
RUSHING 59 86 66 102
PASSING 65 90 86 87
Standard Downs 98 84 106
Passing Downs 75 66 79
Q1 Rk 98 1st Down Rk 108
Q2 Rk 94 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 123 3rd Down Rk 105
Q4 Rk 57

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Driphus Jackson 185 316 2348 18 7 58.5% 34 9.7% 6.1
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Driphus Jackson QB 75 361 3 4.8 4.6 45.3% 12 7
Jowan Davis RB 5'7, 195 Sr. 2 stars 0.7893 71 297 1 4.2 3.4 33.8% 1 1
Luke Turner RB 32 99 6 3.1 2.1 31.3% 0 0
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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Zach Wright WR 6'1, 205 Sr. NR NR 71 39 554 54.9% 19.8% 7.8 52.1% 40.8% 1.86
Dennis Parks WR 57 33 498 57.9% 15.9% 8.7 50.9% 50.9% 1.56
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
Luke Turner RB 15 8 122 53.3% 4.2% 8.1 53.3% 46.7% 1.83
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.

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 102.9 3.12 3.68 39.6% 76.9% 17.0% 65.2 5.6% 12.3%
Rank 58 28 26 58 8 26 118 78 123
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Andrew Reue C 10 36 2015 1st All-CUSA
Caleb Williams RT 9 48
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
John Poehlmann RT 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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.45 122 IsoPPP+ 76.8 127
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 13.7 ACTUAL 10.0 -3.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 103 127 120 127
RUSHING 88 114 116 109
PASSING 102 125 115 128
Standard Downs 123 111 124
Passing Downs 128 127 127
Q1 Rk 127 1st Down Rk 121
Q2 Rk 128 2nd Down Rk 122
Q3 Rk 107 3rd Down Rk 127
Q4 Rk 84

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 83.4 3.29 3.42 42.6% 65.7% 19.4% 90.8 4.9% 6.7%
Rank 125 117 86 109 63 74 81 70 79
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Ross Winship NT 11 17.0 2.9% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 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
Stuart Mouchantaf DT 10 5.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Nick Elder WLB 10 15.5 2.6% 1.5 1.0 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Ryan Pollard SS 12 25.5 4.3% 2.5 0 0 1 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
Zach Espinosa SS 12 21.5 3.6% 0 0 2 2 0 0
Garrett Fuhrman FS 11 14.5 2.4% 0 0 0 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
James Farrimond 59 43.1 2 16 17 55.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
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%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
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
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Category Rk
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

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Western Kentucky 45 -22.6 10%
10-Sep at Army 124 -1.5 47%
17-Sep Baylor 13 -26.4 6%
24-Sep North Texas 128 7.9 68%
1-Oct at Southern Miss 72 -17.8 15%
15-Oct UTSA 116 3.2 57%
22-Oct Prairie View A&M NR 19.8 87%
29-Oct at Louisiana Tech 84 -14.5 20%
5-Nov Florida Atlantic 100 -2.3 45%
12-Nov at Charlotte 123 -2.1 45%
19-Nov UTEP 126 7.0 66%
26-Nov at Stanford 16 -32.3 3%
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.