#92 Rice Football 2016 Preview

Rice Owls
Overall Rank: #92
#5 C-USA


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After a few years of major success, by Rice standards, the Owls took a big step back last year. Predicted to be one of the favorites in Conference USA, Coach David Bailiff’s team fell to 5-7 and 3-5 in conference play. And that record makes last year sound better than it really was. This is a big year for Coach Bailiff. Will he be able to get Rice back towards the top of the conference or are the good times over at Rice? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
2015 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: David Bailiff (53-60 at Rice, 74-75 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Larry Edmondson, Billy Lynch
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Thurmond
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Darik Dillard, RB, 698 yards
Passing: Tyler Stehling, QB, 320 yards
Receiving: Zach Wright, WR, 554 yards
Tackles: Alex Lyons, LB, 77
Sacks: Derek Brown, DE, 4.0; Brian Womac, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: None
Other Key Returnees: WR Nate German, RB Austin Walter, LB Tabari McGaskey, S J.P. Thompson, S Destri White
Key Losses: QB Driphus Jackson, WR Dennis Parks, OL Andrew Reue, S Zach Espinosa, P James Farrimond
Rice’s offense took a step back last year, but not nearly as much as the defense. Quarterback Driphus Jackson is gone after a disappointing senior season. And if Rice is going to get back to a bowl game, it will be on the offense to lead the way. Tyler Stehling will likely take over the starting gig under center after backing up Jackson for the last two years, but Rice has a few younger options that will compete. The offensive line is not the most experienced group around, and they allowed a lot of sacks last year, but they are pretty good and that should help break in the new quarterback. Having receivers Zach Wright, Temi Alaka, Nate German, James Mayden and Parker Smith back should help too. Regardless of the potential of the passing game, the Owls will want to stay on the ground. Darik Dillard leads a deep stable of backs. The senior rushed for 698 yards on 135 carries in 2015. Austin Walter, Samuel Stewart and Jowan Davis are also back after each carrying the ball at least 70 times last season. The skill positions are very good and the line is solid so even if the quarterback position turns out to be average, this is still a dangerous offense.
The defense on the other hand has some major questions to answer. The unit was flat out terrible in every possible category. The numbers are bad across the board and the defense created just two interceptions all year. And those were by safety Zach Espinosa, who is now gone. This year there are a lot of players returning, but it remains to be seen if that is a good thing or not. Youth and inexperience were an issue last year, but it was not the main issue. Defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond must find a way to get more leadership and production from linebacker Alex Lyons and more pressure from ends Derek Brown and Brian Womac. Finding some playmakers in the secondary would not hurt either.
The Bottom Line:
The defense really has nowhere to go but up. And the offense should be better too with the skill position players taking over the main role instead of the turnover prone Jackson. As long as a quarterback can be found who can avoid mistakes, the running game can carry the Owls. The schedule is pretty tough though and there is not much margin for error. In their first five games, Rice faces Western Kentucky, Army and Southern Miss on the road and hosts Baylor and North Texas. It is pretty important that the Owls win two of those games, most likely against Army and North Texas, or there will be a lot of catching up to do. With trips to Louisiana Tech and Stanford later in the season, Rice cannot afford to give anything away. But this does look like a team that should win six games, possibly seven if all goes perfect, and get back to a bowl.
Projected Bowl: Hawaii Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 177.6 (58th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 224.3 (65, 7)
Total Offense: 401.8 (62, 5)
Scoring Offense: 26.1 (87, 6)
Rushing Defense: 190.3 (88, 10)
Pass Defense: 257.2 (101, 9)
Total Defense: 447.4 (102, 11)
Scoring Defense: 35.8 (108, 11)
Turnover Margin: -1.00 (119, 12)
Sacks: 1.33 (111, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 3.17 (120, 11)


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