Gird your loins kids, it's GAME WEEK! Chill the beer, schedule your wife or significant other for a night out, and find your cushion indentation and park it for the Owls and Panthers.
Both Prairie View and Rice are debuting new head coaches. Eric Dooley takes over Prairie View after Willie Simmons left for the head job at Florida A&M. Dooley comes from Grambling where he served as offensive coordinator. Simmons left the job in a decent state after going 21-11 in three seasons. The Panthers will be a pace and space squad who'll want to pressure the offense through rapid play selection and forcing the Owls to cover ground.
Rice's offense in Mike Bloomgren's first year won't do that. The Owls will try to push the Panthers around, keep down and distance manageable and deliver body blows that they hope will pay off as the game progresses.
Imagine if your starting quarterback left less than 60 days before your opener, out of the blue. That's what the Panthers are facing after Neiko Hollins, he left in July to go to a JUCO. We just can't find another current Prairie View quarter in uniform. He passed for over 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. In his place is Lavell McCullers is ready to step in as a senior. McCullers threw for 1,100 yards last season so he's ready to fill in, but by all accounts Hollins departure was a surprise.
Tyner for the win
At the end of last season the quarterback situation at Rice was very different than today. Miklo Smalls looked like the odds on favorite to win the job after flashing in his freshman year, Sam Glaesmann was injured, and Jackson Tyner was tipped for position move.
Eight months later, Tyner is your Rice Owls starting quarterback. Shawn Stankavage is your backup after transferring in from Vanderbilt. Miklo Smalls is heading up to Last Chance U., Independence Junior College. Sam Glaesmann is now a receiver.
Tyner's numbers from 2017 don't exactly inspire hope, he completed 47% of his passes and threw twice as many picks as touchdowns (5 to 2). His number in 2016 were a roller coaster with a great start against UTEP and a disaster against Stanford. Rice is used to disastrous starts vs. Stanford.
This offensive unit and mindset is different, vastly so, over last years and perhaps that change is just what Tyner needs to move into efficiency land. Don't expect Bloomgren and Jerry Mack to put too much on his shoulders, especially early.
Who to Watch in Purple
The Panthers averaged just over 30 points a game last season and 424 yards. Center Corbin Finlayson, a South Alabama transfer returns at center and is a preseason All SWAC selection. The Panthers return four starters up front on offense. Ju'Anthony Parker might be the best defender after intercepting four passes and garnering First Team All-SWAC honors.
Secret Weapon Jack Fox
The senior from St. Louis will handle punting duties and apparently kicking duties as well. Fox is an All-CUSA caliber punter and we'll se if he's got the chops placekicking. Never underestimate the value of a good punter. Fox's ability to flip the field and get the offense out of bad areas will be critical to the Owls' success. Assuming he can be a weapon scoring points, Fox might be one of the more important Rice assets.
The Panthers won Black college football national championship titles in 1953, 1954, 1958, 1963, and 1964.
Rice and Prairie View have met once in their histories, in 2016. The Owls won 65-44.