Head Coach: David Bailiff
2014 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 Conference USA West
2014 Postseason results: Beat Fresno State 30-6 in the Hawaii Bowl
2015 returning starters: 5 offense, 2 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 9500/1
Odds to win 2015 Conference USA Championship Game: 7/1
Regular season wins: under 7 -150 /over 7 +130
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The Rice Owls have gone to a bowl for three straight seasons, and look to continue that trend in 2015. Last year, Rice went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the Conference USA West Division. The Owls lost their first three games including blowout losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M, and an upset by Old Dominion. Rice would then win six straight games before a blowout loss to Marshall.
Still after beating UTEP, the Owls entered the season finale at Louisiana Tech with the West Division title on the line. Rice was crushed in that game 76-31. The Owls would have to settle for a 30-6 rout of Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.
Only seven starters are back for coach David Bailiff. This could be a rebuilding year for the Owls. Especially when you consider Marshall, Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky are all very strong in the Conference. However, other than Middle Tennessee and maybe UTEP the other half of the conference isn’t very strong.
Rice averaged 399 yards per game on offense last year including 232 passing and 168 rushing yards. The Owls averaged 29 points a game on offense. Only five starters are back for co-coordinators Billy Lynch and Larry Edmondson.
Fifth year senior quarterback Driphus Jackson returns to run the offense. He threw for 2,842 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 401 yards on 121 carries with a touchdown. Jackson missed spring practice after undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder but is expected to be healthy for fall camp. Junior Tyler Stehling is the back-up again after throwing for 159 yards and a touchdowns last year.
The top two running backs return for the Owls. Jowan Davis had 245 carries for 956 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 13 catches for 108 yards. Darik Dillard had 134 carries for 652 yards with 11 touchdowns, along with 17 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Luke Turner is the rare running back/tight end hybrid. He had 23 carries and 3 rushing touchdowns, along with 10 catches and a touchdown. Brandon Hamilton will also get some carries.
The top two receivers are in the NFL now. Jordan Taylor is now with the Denver Broncos after making 54 catches for 842 yards and 7 touchdowns. Mario Hull is with the San Francisco 49ers after making 32 catches for 621 yards and 8 touchdowns. Dennis Parks is the leading returning receiver with 29 catches for 389 yards and a touchdown. Zach Wright had 25 catches for 399 yards and 3 touchdowns. James Mayden had only 7 catches last year for 225 yards but 3 went for touchdowns. Temi Alaka and Cameron Decell will also try the fill the void left by the departures of Taylor and Hull. Connor Cella will start at tight end.
Only two starters are back on the offensive line that struggled in pass protection giving up 39 sacks last year. Right tackle Caleb Williams and left guard Andrew Reue are both back. Reue can actually play all five positions on the line. Redshirt freshman Calvin Anderson could start at left tackle.
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Rice allowed 386 yards per game on defense last year, including 233 passing and 153 rushing yards. The Owls allowed 29 points a game last season. The Owls were +8 in turnovers with 20 takeaways. Defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond has his work cut out for him with only 2 starters back.
The defensive line was supposed to be great this year but took a hit when Christian Covington declared for the NFL draft. He is still playing football in Houston but he now with the Texans after making only 2.5 sacks last year. He missed most of the year with an injury. Brian Nordstrom was also supposed to be back after making 19.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He quit football though to get a job in the oil and natural gas industry. Nose tackle Ross Winship is the only regular starter back on the line. He will join tackle Stuart Mouchantaf on the interior of the line. Mouchantaf has missed large parts of the last two seasons with injuries, but looks to stay healthy in 2014. Brian Womac and Graysen Schantz will likely start at the ends.
Linebacker Alex Lyons was All-CUSA last year with 71 tackles and 3 sacks. He will join Nick Elder to form a strong unit.
Ryan Pollard is the only returning starter in the secondary at cornerback. The other 4 new starters are largely untested including 3 sophomores.
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Freshman kicker Jack Fox was the #15 rated kicker coming out of high school. He will compete with incumbent kicker/punter James Farrimond for the kicker job. Farrimond made 8 of 11 field goals last year. He is a better punter than kicker though and could be a Ray Guy award contender. Brandon Hamilton will return kicks again after averaging 22.8 yards per return. Freshman Austin Walter will return punts.
In September, Rice hosts Wagner before road games at Texas, North Texas and Baylor. In October, the Owls have home games against Western Kentucky, Army and Louisiana Tech and a road game at Florida Atlantic. November brings home games against Southern Miss and Charlotte, and road games at UTEP and UTSA. The good news is Rice only leaves the state of Texas one time during the regular season.
The schedule is very tough especially in September and October. However, if the Owls can survive that stretch at 4-4, they have a chance to gain some momentum against a soft November schedule. I think the Owls win 8 games and return to a bowl for the fourth straight season.
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