Well, things didn't go to plan for the Rice Owls in 2016. The Owls ended the season 3-9 and though they finished on a high of sorts, winning two of three, an O-6 start doomed our plucky band of smart guys.
Final analysis turns its attention to the Owls in 2016 and beyond...
We harp on this because it's critical, what's the identity of a program? In other words, beyond the "core values" and marketing, what does a program do well? What do they do that makes them special, potent, or hard to deal with? If a program isn't intentional about what it wants to do, it's just hoping things go right and hope ain't a strategy.
For us, it's instructive to remember when Rice was on a three year bowl run from 2012 - 2014. That gives us a pretty good indication of the identity Rice had when things were going well, historically well for Rice.
The Owls under David Bailiff, when things went well, were a downhill running team. In 2013 when Rice, improbably, won ten games they were a top 20 rushing team. From 2012 to 2014, in the midst of Rice's 3 year bowl run, the Owls controlled the ball, they were top 12 or better in time of possession each year. That means they ran the football well enough, were efficient when throwing, and good on third down. This year the Owls fell to 56th. Given the symbiotic relationship of football, it makes sense why Rice won. They controlled the ball, they controlled the clock and their defense was protected. That's how almost every successful academically elite institution wins. Navy, Air Force, Stanford, etc. Control the clock - win the game.
It also makes sense why they didn't win in 2016. The Owls couldn't run (74th in rush offense), couldn't convert 3rd downs (95th in the FBS).
From 2012 to 2014 the Owls didn't beat themselves. In their previous three seasons, three bowl bids, the Owls were +22 in turnover margin. In the last two years, two losing seasons, the Owls have been -19 in turnover margin.
On defense, the Owls were schematically sound. Again, they didn't beat themselves. In 2016 the Owls were 94th out of 128 in explosive plays given up. 30 spots worse than the previous four seasons. Teams chunked up the Owls for big plays, they can't let that happen.
Bottom line, Rice, regardless of scheme needs to get back to being a physical run team by all means they cannot beat themselves.
Part of that may come in the form of a new defensive coordinator with the retirement of Chris Thurman. So far the Owls haven't been linked to anyone for the defensive coordinator position, but that hire will be critical. It will also be difficult. Bailiff is in a clear "win or else" season, meaning that job security for any hire is tenuous. Still, there will be good names available and Bailiff needs to find the right guys to elevate the defense.
Among the Owls three wins, one was over Prairie View so we'll scratch that. The Owls finished winning two of three, beating Charlotte by one on the road and UTEP by twenty at home. We'll take the UTEP game because it could be a springboard for the Owls heading into 2017. The Owls dominated UTEP at Rice stadium and more importantly used the efforts of redshirt quarterback Jackson Tyner to capture the win. Tyner finished 18-25 for 196 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Rice dominated UTEP on both sides of the ball, holding the venerable Aaron Jones under 100 yards and two yards under season yards per rush average.
What Answers do we have?
The Owls return a ton of offensive line starts in 2017. Rice had a hard time keeping their line healthy in 2016, as a result a lot of guys played, most return including Calvin Anderson. Anderson has started the Owls last 24 games at left tackle and earned honorable mention all conference honors in 2016. He was joined on the all conference team by center Trey Martin.
We like Austin Walter at running back. The rising junior from Crosby averaged five yards a carry and had 355 yards rushing in a crowded backfield. Walter tied for the team lead with four rushing touchdowns.
For the second season in a row the Owls return the bulk of their defense. If everyone returns 19 of 22 on the two deep return. Emmanuel Ellerbee returns at linebacker after ranking sixth in the country with 10.7 tackles per game.
What needs answers?
Quarterback: Rice needs to figure out what they have at quarterback between Tyner and J.T. Granato. Both are rising sophomores, only Tyner has seen any real action. In his only start, in the season finale against Stanford he was clearly overmatched. Granato didn't play much better. Sam Glaesman out of Waco Midway redshirted this season but he could be in the mix. Three star rated Miklo Smalls out of Plano East is the only quarterback in this year's signing class so far and on tape, against good 6A competition, he looks like a different caliber athlete than Rice typically runs out at quarterback: big and fluid.
Receivers: The Owls haven't had a dominant receiver since Jarrett Dillard and from the looks of the roster, they have a passel of "just guys" at the edge. No one stands out. Nate German might be the best athlete on the team, but he's inconsistent and we don't think he benefits from the way the Owls use him as a hybrid receiver/running back/quarterback.
Pressure: Defensively the Owls need to find a way to pressure the quarterback while maintaining some semblance of order in the back end. The Owl defensive line doesn't frighten anyone and the scheme didn't turn linebackers loose with either effectiveness or consistency.
Next Year's Schedule
If Bailiff is going to get his 2017 team to six wins or more it'll come via a brutal schedule. The Owls open with Stanford and Houston, two teams that could be up for top 25 consideration and Pitt and Army aren't slouches either. CUSA's conference schedule isn't released yet, but the West will be tough. If the Owls can find a win in their non-conference it'll be huge.
9/16 @ Houston
9/30 @ Pitt
*Disclaimer: It's recruiting, this will all change. 17 year olds are fickle, odd, often times dumb, humanoids. This list is accurate as off the date of posting. We apologize that we lack a crystal ball or a sorting hat to deal with the changes or make them permanent. Regardless, everyone loves your team, and your recruits are so much better than everyone else's. Never forget that.
Rivals currently has the Owls sitting at 10th in CUSA, ahead of just UTEP and Old Dominion. Two of the Owls' twelve commitments are three star rated.
|Brandt Peterson||TE||Austin, TX||6'6"||245||2||5.3|
|Randall Royall||LB||Houston, TX||6'2"||220||2||5.4|
|Jaeger Bull||TE||Corpus Christi, TX||6'4"||210||2||5.3|
|Miklo Smalls||QB||Plano, TX||6'2"||211||3||5.5|
|Isaiah Richardson||DB||Richmond, TX||6'1"||190||2||5.4|
|Garrett Grammer||LB||Richmond, TX||5'11"||198||2||5.3|
|Corbin Smith||OL||Nederland, TX||6'5"||300||2||5.4|
|Gregor MacKellar||OL||Aurora, ON||6'4"||310||2||5.3|
|Baron Odom||TE||Wynnewood, OK||6'4"||210||3||5.5|
|Chris Boudreaux||ATH||Beaumont, TX||6'2"||176||2||5.3|
|George Nyakwol||DB||Houston, TX||6'2"||177||2||5.3|
|TyRae Thornton||DB||Houston, TX||6'0"||162||2||5.4|