#81 Rice Football 2015 Preview

Rice Owls

Overall Rank: #81
#4 Conference USA

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After losing to Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Old Dominion, Rice reeled off six wins in a row and found themselves in a position to win a Conference USA title. Losses to Marshall and Louisiana Tech, the two teams that played in the title game, put an end to those hopes. But it was still a very good season for Rice, especially since it ended with a 30-6 whooping over Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. Coach David Bailiff has done a great job with this program and just reaching another bowl game should be good enough.

2014 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2014 Bowl: Hawaii Bowl vs. Fresno State (W 30-6)
Coach: David Bailiff (48-53 at Rice, 69-68 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Larry Edmondson, Billy Lynch
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Thurmond

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jowan Davis, RB, 956 yards
Passing: Driphus Jackson, QB, 2,842 yards
Receiving: Dennis Parks, WR, 389 yards
Tackles: Alex Lyons, LB, 71
Sacks: Alex Lyons, LB, 3.0; Graysen Schantz, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Ryan Pollard, CB, 2

Other Key Returnees: RB Darik Dillard, WR Zach Wright, P James Farrimond, OL Andrew Reue

Key Losses: WR Jordan Taylor, WR Mario Hull, CB Bryce Callahan, DE Zak Patt, DE Brian Nordstrom, DE Dylan Klare, LB James Radcliffe, OL Nico Carlson

Quarterback Driphus Jackson flew a little under the radar while other Conference USA signal callers like Rakeem Cato and Brandon Doughty were putting up huge numbers. But Jackson had a great season in his own right, passing for 2,842 yards and 24 touchdowns, while throwing just eight interceptions. He is also extremely dangerous with his feet and Jackson rushed for another 401 yards. Jackson’s top two receiver targets from last year are gone, but Dennis Parks and Zach Wright are a good duo to build around. There is also plenty of younger talent ready to emerge sooner or later. This is still a team that wants to keep the ball on the ground though and that is where Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard come into the picture. Davis ran for 956 yards and six touchdowns, while Dillard added 652 yards and 11 scores. Along with Jackson’s help, Rice ranked 57th in the nation in rushing offense. The offensive line, which lost three starters, may keep the Owls from reaching that point again, but this will still be a very, very good running team.  

The defense was solid last year, especially when it came to getting to the quarterback. However, the top three pass rushers are gone and Rice expected a couple of them to be back. Christian Covington opted to skip his final year of eligibility after missing 2014 with an injury and Brian Nordstrom left to take a real job. Nose tackle Ross Winship is the only regular left in the rotation. Graysen Schantz tallied 3.0 sacks a year ago and is expected to start at one of the end spots. There is a bit more experience at linebacker, most notably junior Alex Lyons, who led the team with 71 tackles. The secondary is terribly inexperienced and the staff will have to find a way to build around senior cornerback Ryan Pollard.

The Bottom Line:
Teams have won before in Conference USA with a prolific offense and an average defense. That appears to be the way Rice will have to do it this year. With a schedule that includes trips to Texas, North Texas and Baylor in a three week stretch, Rice will likely get off to a slow start. If they can survive that stretch with a conference win over North Texas, the rest of the schedule shapes up pretty nicely. They get Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky, two of the top contenders for a conference title, at home. And they avoid Marshall and Middle Tennessee all together.

Projected Bowl: New Mexico Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 167.8 (57th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 231.5 (62, 5)
Total Offense: 399.2 (65, 6)
Scoring Offense: 28.8 (63, 6)
Rushing Defense: 152.5 (45, 3)
Pass Defense: 233.4 (77, 7)
Total Defense: 385.9 (54, 7)
Scoring Defense: 28.5 (80, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (22, 4)
Sacks: 3.00 (13, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (70, 7)


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