It seems odd that just four seasons ago, the Rice Owls finished the season 10-3 and defeated Western Michigan 38-14 in the Texas Bowl in 2008. It was one of their best seasons to date and only their fifth bowl win in school history. But now with head coach David Bailiff entering his sixth season at Rice, he has just one winning season while there. Most don’t expect the Owls to win seven or eight games each year, but Rice fans expect more than what has been taking place down on Main Street.
Offense (6 starters return)
Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue has to get better, and Bailiff has to use former Michigan Wolverine starter Sam McGuffie more often. McHargue, who has battled some injuries, threw for 1,000 yards last year while sharing time with another quarterback. This season, the offense is all his. As a sophomore, McHargue threw five interceptions to just eight touchdowns and never really could find a rhythm. He didn’t play in the last four games of the season.
McGuffie was supposed to save the offense two seasons ago. Whether he has been gimped with a leg injury or was in Bailiff’s “doghouse,” McGuffie has underperformed and, now a senior, is Rice’s only explosive offensive threat.
Last year’s leading rusher has moved on, but juniors Turner Peterson and Charlie Ross saw plenty of action last year; they just aren’t super explosive.
Four of the Owls’ leading receivers return including top wide out and former East Chambers product Vance McDonald. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound receiver is a load for opposing defensive backs to cover.
Another issue could be the offensive line. One starter returns, and the other four are underclassmen. If they struggle, McHargue will be scrambling all day.
Defense (6 starters)
There’s only way to go, and that’s up for this side of the ball. Last season, the Owls allowed an average of 33 points per game, which ranked 111th nationally. Bailiff felt outside heat and got himself a new defensive coordinator. Well, sort of. Bailiff promoted secondary coach Chris Thurmond to help stop teams from scoring so much.
The good news is there is some talent, especially in the secondary. Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan, both underclassmen, have shown improvement and will only get better. There are plenty of players at safety like Paul Porras and Corey Frazier. Linebackers Cameron Nwosu, who I believe is the best defensive player for Rice, and Kyle Prater will start.
The bad news is the defensive line. Only one of four starters return, and that could be a nasty problem if a team decides to vigorously run the ball at them.
Kicker Chris Boswell is super talented, and freshman punter Cameron Decell has great potential, the head coach says. Punt returns and kick returns have been awful, so unless McGuffie returns kicks, which he more than likely will not due to fear of injury, expect plenty of fair-catch signals.
There’s talent on the Rice roster, but not 2008 talent when they won 10 games. The Owls play a tough non-conference schedule and cannot afford to start the season 0-3. If they do, then they might be in for a long season.
Rice has to learn how to win road games. They have lost their last 11 games away from Rice Stadium, and that has to end. The Owls play most of their toughest conference games in Houston, so that’s a plus.
Despite averaging a mere 17,000 fans per home game, Bailiff has some pressure on him to step it up. One winning season in four attempts won’t cut it. Take out the 10-3 season, and Bailiff’s Owls are 13-35. Six wins and a chance at a bowl game would be a successful season.
Chad Cooper can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com.