David Baliff’s tenure came to an end at Rice after a 1-11 showing in 2017. The Owls were -23 in turnover margin, which is a pretty good way to go 1-11 and get your head coach fired. The crazy thing is that Rice was far more competitive in conference play, as the Owls were only outgained by an average of 23 yards per game. Four non-conference curbstompings made things look a lot worse than they were, but the Owls did need a change and Baliff probably needed one himself.
That change is former Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. For all of the things Rice did wrong last season, the Owls still ran for 4.6 yards per carry, so there may be the start of something for Bloomgren, who is going to attempt to run that Stanford offense of carries between the tackles and play-action passes. Rice has a pretty big set of offensive linemen and decent depth at running back, so this transition could be smoother than expected.
On the other hand, this is a 1-11 team that has allowed 7.1, 7.4, and 6.4 yards per play over the last three seasons. Rice won’t be a factor in the Conference USA Championship Game picture and probably won’t be making a bowl game. BetOnline has a season win total line of 3.5 with both sides at -110. 5Dimes is showing 3 with the over at -150 and the under at +120.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|8/25||Prairie View A&M||N/A||1|
|9/22||@ Southern Miss||+14||.15|
|9/29||@ Wake Forest||+30||0|
|10/27||@ North Texas||+20||0|
|11/10||@ Louisiana Tech||+21||0|
Expected Wins: 3.09
Rice is going to run the ball a lot. They probably should. The top two returning rushers are Nahshon Ellerbe and Austin Walter, but Rice could opt to roll with Emmanuel Esukpa. No matter what the Owls decide to do, they can throw a committee approach at this thing and see who winds up shining. Walter had 5.8 yards per carry last season, but is also the smallest of the backs at 5-foot-8. Rice doesn’t have big backs, but Walter is the most explosive and the one that was used the most out of the backfield. He’s likely to be the one that fills the “Christian McCaffrey” type of role as a do-everything player in this Mike Bloomgren and Jerry Mack offense. Mack was formerly the head coach at North Carolina Central.
Jackson Tyner and Sam Glaesmann are the holdovers for Rice and Shawn Stankavage transferred in from Vanderbilt, so that is your quarterback competition. Tyner and Glaesmann both completed less than 50 percent of their passes last season with more interceptions than touchdowns. This Rice passing game is really awful, to be totally honest. The quarterbacks combined for a 49.6 percent completion rate and a 6/16 TD/INT ratio. Leading receiver Aaron Cephus is now a sophomore, but he won’t get a ton of touches. Rice does return a huge offensive line with four 300 pounders, which should allow the Owls to run the ball with some level of efficiency.
First-time defensive coordinator Brian Smith inherits a really bad group of his own. The Owls have not held and opponent under 6.4 yards per play since 2014. Last year’s 6.4 yards per play against was actually a significant improvement from 2016. Rice’s top five tacklers from last season are all gone. Emmanuel Ellerbee had 120 tackles last season. Nobody else had more than 51. Brian Womac had 10 of Rice’s 28 sacks and also had 12 tackles for loss. Opponents completed 69.7 percent of their passes and ran for five yards per carry. This was a bad unit all around and whatever could classify as star power is gone.
The secondary should improve on Smith’s watch, as he was the defensive backs coach at Michigan. The numbers were greatly skewed by some non-conference beatdowns, so maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem, but Rice had three interceptions. There really aren’t a whole lot of positives on either side of the ball and this is definitely going to be a multi-year rebuild. There are a lot of talented high school players in Texas, but with Rice down at the bottom of the pecking order after going 4-20 over the last two seasons, it’s going to be a prolonged process.
Rice plays a 13-game schedule this season with a Week 0 game against Prairie View A&M. They’ll beat PVAMU, but who knows what they’ll do after that. They’ll take a long trip out to Hawaii after playing in Australia last season, but they’ll have a bye immediately following that matchup. They avoid FAU, Marshall, and Middle Tennessee, which is great, but they play four hard non-conference games and miss out on playing Charlotte.
Pick: Under 3.5 (-110, BetOnline)
Rice even gets an extra game and it is hard to see four wins. They’ll be a favorite just twice this season and don’t even have a whole lot of games on the card that look competitive in an underdog role. The early bye week won’t help with a team that lacks depth. They’re going to be an interesting team in large underdog roles because they should play at a very slow pace with a Stanford-inspired offense. That could lead to some ATS wins, especially off a 1-11 season with low expectations this year, but straight up wins will not be piling up.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Rice Owls were 10-4 in 2013. Since then, it has been all downhill for this program. Rice went 3-9 a year ago, and the team has put up some unbelievably bad defensive numbers in the last couple seasons.
David Baliff was being considered for other jobs a few years ago, but he isn’t likely to keep the Rice job much longer unless he turns things around. Some around the program thought he might be done after last season. Instead, he has another shot to get things going in the right direction again.
Rice has made their schedule a whole lot more difficult in the non-conference slate than most teams in this conference. That could either work to their benefit or hurt them. Rice starts the season this year in Australia against Stanford on August 26.
Let’s take a closer look at this Rice Owls team.
Rice Owls Schedule:
|8/26||Stanford (N – Australia)||Loss|
|11/18||@ Old Dominion||Loss|
The clear strength of this Rice Owls team is their offensive line. They have all five starting linemen back, and a couple of their backups have had a lot of experience starting as well. Last year, the offensive line was hit by the injury bug early and often. If they stay healthy this year, Rice’s offensive line has the potential to be one of the two or three best in the conference. All five starting linemen are juniors or seniors.
Sam Stewart was Rice’s leading rusher last year, and he’s back again this season, but he didn’t even get to 500 yards on the ground a year ago. They did split the carries a lot of different directions last year, so Stewart is likely to put up a lot more on the ground this year. Stewart missed a few games with an injury last year as well. He averaged an impressive 6.3 yards per carry.
It’s hard to say who will start at quarterback for the Owls. It appears to be a race between Sam Glaesmann, Jackson Tyner, and JT Granato. This is a clear weakness for Rice with a ton of inexperience here. The Owls didn’t get good quarterback play last year, so I’m not sure there is any step down.
The group of receivers should be better than a year ago, and they do have some big play ability. It is just a question of whether Rice can find someone to get them the ball consistently.
Here’s where the major problems have been at Rice the last couple years. The defensive line allowed 5.5 yards per carry last year, and they were the “strength” of the defense.
How bad was this defense? Rice allowed a whopping 7.4 yards per play a year ago. Rice gave up explosive plays like I’ve never seen a defense give them up before. The Owls allowed a ridiculous 13 plays of 70 yards or more last year! There were more than 20 teams in the country last year that didn’t allow a single play of 70 yards or more. The Owls allowed 505 yards per game and 37.3 points per game.
Rice is switching to a 3-4 defense this year. Why not? They had to try something new. What they were doing before certainly wasn’t working.
I think Rice can improve against the run this year, as I believe both their defensive line and linebacking units are somewhat improved.
What about the pass defense? This has been the worst secondary in the country two years in a row. I’ll assume they’ll do a little better this year, but this is still going to be a major problem area.
Special teams play has cost Rice several close games in the last couple years. Keep that in mind. How excited is the team to play for David Baliff? We’ll find out this year. They know he’s on the hot seat. Let’s see how they react.
Win Total Pick: Pass (Number is 3.5)
I can’t even lean either way here. Rice has a weird schedule with playing Australia to start the season. They have a couple tossup games (at UTEP, vs. North Texas). I gave them a win at UTEP above and a loss at home against North Texas, but those are games that could go either way. Rice is unlikely to break out and have a big season, but I see anything from two wins to five wins being a possibility here. This pass defense scares me a lot, and I’ll wait to see if they have improved at all before even considering backing them in any way.