Rice 2019 Season Preview

It’s Rice week, and our preview of the Owls rolls out like this, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down, and we’ll delve into Rice’s skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and our offensive X-Factor. Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the West U secondary plus a defensive X-Factor, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign.

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Offense

Rice’s offense, when its spinning like a top, is predicated on efficiency. Win on first down, you can get creative on second down, and if necessary use your maulers up front to deal with third and manageable. That’s the theory anyway. In 2018 that theory didn’t look good in practice.

Team Rush Yards / Att Comp % Plays / Gm Avg TOP (min) 3rd Down %
Rice 3.86 (102) 53.53 (110) 66.08 (106) 32.68 (16) 28.72 (130)

The Owls didn’t rush the ball at a high level and doubled down by not completing passes with great regularity. Rice went all in on a slower pace, which paid off in time of possession, but not in the desired outcome - points. The Owls held the ball for 33 minutes a game, third in CUSA, 16th overall, but they were dead freaking last in third-down conversions.

The Owls took the air out of the ball and didn’t have much to show for it. They scored 18 points a game, 124th among their FBS peers. The bookended eleven losses between two wins, the first over FCS foe Prairie View via a last-second field goal, the second in a dominating performance over Old Dominion.

These are the early days of the Mike Bloomgren era. 2019 still feels very early in his alchemy, but let’s see where the Owls stand.

Quarterback

We long for the days of Driphus Jackson.

Rice is in a quarterbacking desert of late, not since Jackson’s 2015 season has an Owl quarterback had a QB rating of better than 130. We’d get greedy if we asked for 2014 Driphus Jackson, the last time the Owls made a bowl game, when the quarterback almost hit 150 on his rating, threw for 2,800 yards on 58% completions.

Not since Driphus has the Owls quarterback played at an average level. Average in Mike Bloomgren’s offense can get you a long way. Stanford averaged ten wins a year for a decade with quarterbacks you’ve never heard. Kevin Hogan, Ryan Burns, and K.J. Costello. Of course, they had that Andrew Luck guy. Let’s ignore him for now. Besides, Hogan led the Cardinal to as many 12 win seasons as Luck.

If you wanted to create the ideal quarterback for the current Rice offense, you’d want to start with Hogan, rather than Luck. Luck was transcendent, and the Owls don’t need transcendent to win consistently. Rivals rated Hogan as a three-star prospect out of high school.

The ideal Rice QB, like Hogan, is going to be intelligent first and foremost. Intelligence is a given with a player who gains acceptance into Rice Institute. They’ve got brilliant kids for days. In football terms, he’ll have a mastery of the offense, top to bottom including line protections, make run/pass checks. He won’t need to throw for 3,000 yards, but making the timely, “right” throw is critical. He won’t be a dual-threat quarterback, but he’ll be a smart ball carrier. Lastly, he’ll become a great admirer of the rushing attack, the hammer of an efficient Bloomgren offense.

Does anyone meet those criteria on the Owls roster? We’ll know it when we see it.

Wiley Green riceowls.com

Last year the Owls went with grad transfer Shawn Stankavage, who started nine games before injuries and the need to test out freshman Wiley Green necessitated a change. Stankavage was serviceable, completing 56% of his quarterback passes with equally ten touchdowns and ten picks. He served as a steadying force as some young Owls went into their first college games.

Rice turned to Green who completed 51% of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. He threw for 313 yards against UTEP in early November and flashed some of the skills he possesses in a start at North Texas a week before. The staff didn’t ask him to do too much, letting throw on the move and play conservatively as the situation allowed it. Bloomgren preserved his redshirt heading into 2019.

In the spring game, Green completed 4 of 20 passes for 99 yards with a pick and a touchdown. The spring game was a ragged affair full of drops and mistakes all around, so don’t buy into those numbers. Please, God no, don’t buy into them. He might be the future of the position, but the present is more than likely another grad transfer, Harvard Man Tom Stewart.

Stewart was Honorable Mention All-Ivy League last year. He’s a bigger quarterback with a nice arm. Accuracy seemed to be an issue as he completed 53% of his passes. Completion percentage translates pretty well, but Stewart’s an experienced starter who had a successful prep career at Episcopal in Dallas. He throws a pretty deep ball, and that might feed into Rice’s best offensive assets in Aaron Cephus and Austin Trammell.

Evan Marshman backed up Green and Stankavage last year, making a start at Florida International. He’s arguably the best athlete in the room, so much so that he played special teams last season. Under pressure, he’s a run-first quarterback with raw passing skills.

Parker Towns is a lanky redshirt who played in minimal action last year. As a senior at Jesuit, he threw for over 3,500 yards and 26 scores.

Bloomgren signed JoVoni Johnson out of Conway Arkansas during the 2019 recruiting cycle. Johnson is all of 6-5, lean, with a buttery quick delivery. He held several FCS, and Division II offers, given his size and a verified 4.5 40, we’re surprised he didn’t attract much attention, though Arkansas offered him a preferred walk-on spot last summer. Johnson suffered a pretty scary injury in his last game at Conway but appears to have made a full recovery. He threw for 2,478 yards and 34 scores for the Wampus Cats. I need a Wampus Cat t-shirt or koozie in the worst way.

Skill Players

Emmanuel Esupka’s 2018 season started with a workmanlike 32 carries in a win over Prairie View A&M. The thumper from Mansfield came out of the blocks like a modern day Earl Campbell, rushing for 358 yards in three games with an average of almost 5.5 yards a tote. The mileage of the first three games started to wear on the big fella, and his production fell off a cliff. He rushed for 103 yards the rest of the season. Esupka transferred to BYU in the offseason.

Juma Otoviano riceowls.com

Rice fans promised Intellectual Brutality were desperate, until, like Simba held aloft above the Pridelands, a youngster became the hope of the Owl’s future. Juma Otoviano, a true freshman from Arlington Martin gives Rice something to look forward to in 2019.

The Owl rushing game falls to Otoviano and a group of wily veterans. For his part, Otoviano uses excellent vision and a quick darting style to churn out yardage. He rushed for 224 yards in the season finale victory over Old Dominion and finished his first year averaging 5.6 yards on his 65 carries.

Against North Texas, with a fellow true freshman starting at quarterback, offensive coordinator Jerry Mack trusted Otoviano’s decision making enough that he augmented his offensive package with a healthy dose of Otoviano carrying the ball out of the wildcat. He scored his first collegiate touchdown in the wilds of Death Valley against LSU. Bloomgren hit on some key pieces in his first recruiting class, Otoviano might be the best.

The rushing attack will, however, be a running back by committee and seasoned vet Aston Walter is back to help shoulder the load. Walter does the little things well, like picking up blitzes, that are so crucial to this offense working.

Name Yr Pos G Att Yards Avg. TD Yards/G
Juma Otoviano FR RB 12 65 364 5.6 3 30.33
Aston Walter SR RB 13 64 254 3.97 0 19.54
Nahshon Ellerbe JR RB 9 4 4 1 0 0.44

Harvard transfer and Cy Ranch Alumn Charlie Booker is in the fold as well. He rushed for 700 yards for the Crimson in 2017. Last season his production dipped, but he might be the best Owl between the tackles, a trait they’ll need with Esupka’s transfer. Booker isn’t a big back, but he has good leg drive and pad level.

2017 leading rusher Nahshon Ellerbe returns from an injury that kept him out of action most of 2018 and Cam Montgomery, a 5-5 track and field standout from Stafford moves to running back from receiver. Converted linebacker Ari Broussard was the talk of spring ball, looking more than comfortable in his new role. At the very least he’ll give the Rice a bigger back to throw in the mix. The walk-on earned a scholarship a few months ago after leading the Owls in rushing during the spring game.

The Owls signed Jawan King from Atlanta, Texas in the 2019 recruiting cycle. While he’s not particularly explosive, he runs well in traffic and played against solid small-school competition in the heart of Beast Texas.

The Owls will use a fullback or three. They deploy the lunch pail carrying, blue collar, beautiful beasts of the wild as much as anyone in college football. Stanford transfer Reagan Williams looks to step into the starting role and head lead blocker. Jacob Doddridge and walk-on Luke Armstrong both provide big bodies to fit the role.

Austin Trammell riceowls.com

Not many people knew about Austin Trammell before 2018, but after 62 catches and three scores, the junior from Klein won’t sneak up on CUSA this season. Rice quarterbacks targeted Trammell 115 times, top 25 in college football. Aaron Cephus is his partner, the master of the back shoulder, Cephus led the Owls with five touchdowns and finished second on the team with 40 catches and 80 targets.

Those two weapons give Rice one of the better, more productive returning receiving duos in the league. Receivers tend only to be as good as their level of service; if Rice can improve at quarterback, Trammell’s and Cephus’ numbers should go up. Rhett Cardwell provides depth and options in the slot after eleven catches last season.

This spring the Owls went to the JUCO ranks and brought in 6-5 pass catcher Brad Rozner from Cisco. He has good straight-line speed and big-time leaping ability. He’ll more than makeup for the transfer of Brendan Harmon.

Rice also signed Jake Bailey out of SoCal powerhouse St. John Bosco. He’s listed as a receiver on the current Owl roster, and he’s a fluid, powerful athlete. He’ll get on the field one way or the other. The Owls also added Zane Knipe our of Houston Lamar, a sub-11-second 100-meter athlete, Knipe is a three-star composite according to 24/7.

At tight end, the Owls return a decent duo as well with Jaeger Bull and Jordan Myers. Myers is the gem here, a real Swiss army knife, capable of playing tight end, fullback or H-back with all the tools. Myers caught 16 passes for a 16-yard average last season. Bull is a more prototypical tight end. He flashed at times last season but not enough to be a significant factor.

6-5 redshirt freshman Robert French should see his first action in 2019 and the Owls signed mammoth 6-6 tight end Jack Bradley out of Bishop Lynch. He’s a three-star prospect who held an offer from Colorado as well as several G5s.

Offensive Line

The engine of any good offense is the front. The dancing bears on the offensive line have more to do with winning than most folks realize and miles more than they’re credited with. If the glory hounds that carry the ball, score touchdowns and don’t get winded tying their shoes have success, it’s because someone sacrificed glory for grit and moved another man against his will. They can take the heart of an opposing team and make them quit. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Line play makes football, well, football.

For Rice, the engine needed a tune-up last season. Mike Bloomgren, out of necessity and for evaluative purposes, threw his first generation of freshman offensive linemen into the fire. First-year players Cole Garcia, Clay Servin, and Jake Syptak played significant minutes for the Owls last season as Bloomgren auditioned his young charges. The Owls weren’t going to win more games by playing more experienced linemen. Bloomgren used the new four-game redshirt rule to maximum effect.

The good news is, everyone’s back, almost. The bad news is the line might not be a force for another year.

The bell cow of the line is a newcomer, Nick Leverett from North Carolina Central. The transfer established himself this spring as a mauler and at 6-4, 309 pounds he has ideal size for a guard. Sophomore Garcia joins Leverett inside at guard. The sophomore from Bishop Lynch has a beautiful nastiness about his game. Darrell Royal famously said if a player would bite as a dog, they’d bite as a pup. Garcia has some bite to his game.

At center, Shea Baker returns after a redshirt freshman season that earned him CUSA All-Freshman honors. Stanford grad transfer Brian Chaffin will compete at center as well. He played 28 games for the Cardinal, none in a starting role. If Chaffin steps in at center, Baker may move to guard, a position he’s comfortable with. Either way, Chaffin’s arrival bolsters depth on the interior.

Cole Elms earned a scholarship last season after playing in ten of twelve games. He flexed in a fullback/H-back in packages and made one start at center. He’s a swing player on the line, but his real value is as an extra blocker in a heavy or jumbo package.

Uzoma Osuji riceowls.com

At tackle, Uzoma Osuji returns and is the elder statesmen at West U as a redshirt junior with six career starts. Osuji is a plus athlete with ideal size at 6-6 with long arms. At the other tackle Servin is back after three starts as a true freshman, he preserved his redshirt status.

I don’t see Woodlands product Jake Syptak listed on the roster, I’m not sure of his status, but his absence is curious. Syptak seemed to have a lot of upside on the edge. If he’s no longer on the squad, that’s a big hit. Derek Ferraro redshirted last season out of New Rochelle, New York. He has nice arm length and projects to provide depth.

An interesting newcomer is Ouachita Baptist transfer Justin Gooseberry. Gooseberry played for a twelve win Tiger team, starting every game at right tackle and earning Division II All-American honors for his efforts. He checks in at 6-4 and 295 pounds.

The issue for Rice is one of depth; the youth movement will continue in 2019 as the Owl two-deep will be stocked with first-year linemen again. Ideally, Bloomgren would have a handful of upperclassmen to fill roles, but attrition hath made its mark. If only Stanford could’ve released a few more grad transfer. The second-year Rice coach signed another compliment of blockers during the 2019 recruiting period.

The headliners are a pair of three-star prospects on the interior, Hunter Jones from Stockton, California and Izeya Floyd from Frisco Ready. Jones moves well for a big guy, he played tackle in high school but projects at guard. Floyd is an old fashioned one-gap bruiser. Developing technique will be vital for his effectiveness moving forward.

Regan Riddle comes from 5A powerhouse Highland Park and Nick Wagman is a nice tackle/guard prospect from Maryland.

About that Scheme

Bloomgren turned heads with his style of play, a departure from the previous regime and different than most of the larger high schools play in this State. His offense works with the right personnel, he’s in the early stages of acquiring that personnel, but it’s slow going.

Mike Bloomgren riceowls.com

In the meantime, preparing to play Rice is a task unto itself. The Owls play a style that the rest of the league is not familiar with. It’s not as drastic a change week to week as a flexbone team, but the offense requires different prep and base defensive groupings that teams typically don’t deploy these days.

From Rice’s perspective, the system doesn’t lend itself to younger players, and pace of play means the Owls have to maximize their offensive chances, something they struggled with last year. When it works, the offense is, in its way, a spread killer, taking the air out of the ball and keeping tempo offenses sipping Gatorade and defenses absorbing body blows.

When it doesn’t work, the offense trips over its moving parts and lacks the lethal finishing edge to keep pace with the faster, shall we say, high volume offenses.

The spread became a shortcut for teams with lesser talent to take advantage of market inefficiencies to compete with most established blue bloods. Then the blue bloods, realizing they could run the same systems with four and five-star talent, eliminated most of the inefficiencies. Now you seeUSC, the creators of “student body right, ” the home to tailbacks like Marcus Allen, Charles White, Orenthal James Simpson, and Ricky Bell, currently transforming themselves into an Air Raid team to keep pace with the likes of Washington State, Oregon, and their cross-town rivals, UCLA.

You could argue the market inefficiency shifts back to a more conventional offense, one with fullbacks and multiple tight ends, that exposes lighter, faster defensive front sevens by blowing them into next week. The offense requires a different type of lineman, a different, more physical brand of football, and a quarterback who doesn’t rely on the sideline for every adjustment, but who guides an offense from the line of scrimmage.

The challenge in 2019 is not much different from the cause of 2018; Bloomgren must continue to establish a culture and develop his youth into the image he wants to see. That means growing pains once again, especially if the quarterback play continues to make us long for Driphus Jackson.

The best way to measure progress might not be with wins, but rather with whether the Owls can do the little things, like stay ahead of the chains, run with better efficiency, develop essential but hard to find players like fullbacks and tight ends, and generally continue to grow into a team that the opposition dreads.

Make Saturdays a costly affair for the other sideline. If the Owl core of talent continues to grow up, then it won’t take long for Rice to start dishing out lumps instead of receiving them. If Rice misses on too great a number of prospects and the moving parts are ill-fitting, the process extends and two-win seasons will continue to be the norm.

Defense

Like the Owl offense, the defense took some lumps last year. Rice finished dead solid last in CUSA in points allowed and gave up nearly 450 yards a game. Opponents also converted 42% of third-down attempts. These numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone, the Owls won once against FBS competition. Nowhere to go but up, right?

Team Opp Comp % (Nat'l Rank) Opp Passer Rating Opp Pass Att / Sack Opp Poss w/ TDs Explosive Plays Allowed
Rice 63.01 (108) 160.52 (122) 24.06 (121) 33.9 (115) 78 (124)

Opposing passers padded their stats against Rice in part because the Owl defense struggled to pressure the passer. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 24 attempts for every sack and averaged a 160 passer rating, 122nd in the FBS. Rice allowed points on 40% of opposing possessions, worse; they allowed touchdowns on 33% of opposing possessions. The Owl defense was bend and then break or just let the flood gates open, with 78 plays of 20 or more yards, 124th among its peers.

The good news for Rice is the issues weren’t on the effort end of the spectrum; these guys played hard and ran to the football. That’s a great cultural indicator moving forward, loafing is a sin, and that point seems to be rattling home. The issues were and will be youth, depth, and size, but these guys run around looking to put a hat on somebody.

As was the case on offense, Rice coaches used the four-game redshirt rule generously, playing a lot of first-year players. Similarly, the Owls will trot out a very young defense against this season. That bodes well long term, but for 2019 the going will be tough.

Front Seven

Rice kids are smart. That’s why so many go the grad transfer route. I can’t think of a team with more key defections using the grad transfer rule, and it makes some sense: you get a prestigious Rice degree and then get the chance to play for a more competitive team. It’s great for the grad transfer but decimated Rice’s frontline depth last year and this season.

By our count four 2018 defensive starters left the roster via grad transfer, including defensive line contributors Zach Abercrumbia and Roe Wilkins. Abercrumbia went north to SMU while Wilkins headed west to Arizona State. A position of depth heading into 2019 is now thin.

Elijah Garcia riceowls.com

Elijah Garcia is the headliner coming back on the interior. Garcia played the best ball of his Rice career last season with 39 stops. Myles (with a “y”) Adams is back at defensive tackle; a two or three-technique is Rice’s odd man front. Adams made four starts last season. He and JaVante Hubbard will rotate on the front. Hubbard is undersized but active at 250 pounds.

Sophomore Trey Schuman is set to compete for the starting position at defensive end. I love his athleticism and motor. He’s an unguided missile in the best way. Miles (with an “i”) Adams adds depth and could play with his hand off the ground. After that, it’s a group of first-year players to round out the rotation.

De’Braylon Carroll from 6A runner-up Duncanville rates the highest at a three-star 24/7 composite. He’s a one-gap defensive tackle at 6-0, 275 who plays with a low pad level and gets after the run well. The Owls went to the frozen tundra of Green Bay for 6-2, 275 pounds defensive tackle Isaac Klarkowski, a two-star rated prospect. He’s athletic for a bigger guy, and played both ways for his prep team.

Rice Chaos 2018.png

The Owls will struggle to find bodies up front to fill out a six-player rotation. They’re an injury away from relying on true freshman to play a lot of minutes at a position where experience tends to matter most.

On the other hand, linebacker might be the most stacked position on the roster. The Owls can trot out seven or eight players capable of starting. Blaze Alldredge was a revelation last season after transferring in from California. Alldredge didn’t start until the fourth game of the season and even then didn’t start again until the eighth game, but finished second on the team in tackles and tied for third in tackles for loss. If you want to find the ball, find him.

Antonio Montero riceowls.com

Sophomore Antonio Montero started seven games as a true freshman and joins Alldredge, filling in at the Mike backer. Montero, like Alldredge, is always running, pursuing, and throwing his body around.

Fellow sophomore Treshawn Chamberlain returns as well after an active true freshman season. He’s undersized but athletic enough to compensate. 2018 incumbent Dylan Silcox provides experience and starting ability, though he may be a backup in 2019.

The Owl backers, especially this young crop, are athletic enough to slide out and cover but also willing to step in and fill. They give DC Brian Smith a lot of flexibility in his second year calling the Owl defense.

Anthony Ekpe is the most complete linebacker of the bunch, he’s the biggest at 234 pounds and earned Honorable Mention All-CUSA last season after accumulating 6.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks.

Dylan James is a long athlete at 6-4 who played well enough to earn a scholarship last season. JaQuez Battley is another undersized but very active athlete to help on defense and special teams. Kebreyun Page out of Metroplex powerhouse Cedar Hill is back after seeing the field as a true freshman, his frame looks capable of carrying more weight and if he maintains his ability to move, he’ll be a contributor.

The Owls signed six linebackers in the 2019 class; they fit the mold of rangy, athletic, and active. Josh Pearcy from New Jersey and Adrian Bickham from Louisiana jump off the tape, but it’s an impressive group. A couple may be able to grow into defensive ends, which would be useful. Whether they see the field in critical situations with such a crowded stable of linebackers is a big if this season, but Bloomgren and Smith seem to favor getting as many athletes on the field as possible, regardless of seniority.

Secondary

The Rice secondary wasn’t very good in 2018. They came by it honestly - lack of pass rush, down in numbers due to injuries, young players - all coagulated to make Rice’s pass defense a rusty screen door of aerial protection. Like the front seven, the secondary was bitten by the transfer bug with Justin Bickham and Houston Robert both graduating and taking their talents elsewhere this offseason.

If you’re going to compete against the four and five wide sets of the spread era, you’ll need to have four or five corners that can matchup and safeties comfortable moving in and out of man coverage. Rice might have the latter, but the corner issue needs work.

Tyrae Thornton riceowls.com

Tryae Thornton is the most experienced cover corner; he made for starts last season as a redshirt freshman. His first start came in the grease against Houston. If he can stay healthy and stay on defense D’Angelo Ellis should contribute at corner. He’s moved between receiver and defensive back, but injuries have been the real culprit of his playing time. Ellis missed most of last year and half of 2017 due to the injury bug.

Collin Whitaker started three games last year including a hairy stretch against La Tech and LSU in back to back weeks. He’s a little upright and a little stiff, but he competes for the football. Andrew Bird saw brief action preserving his redshirt last season; he’s a long-legged athlete from All Saints Episcopal.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jason White at 5-8. He was a high school hurdler, and if you read our site, you know our athletic crush on hurdlers. He redshirted as well in 2018; he plays bigger than his frame. We like track athletes because you get an actual gage of their speed - out of pads of course. White ran a 55 second 400 meters.

The Owls signed Josh Landrum, another Cedar Hill athlete this spring. In a position where short term memory loss is critical, and swagger is a preferred trait, Landrum brings a lot of both. I think he’ll play a good bit this season; Landrum will come up and smoke you too. At Cedar Hill you’re going to run into athletes, Landrum went up against receivers from DeSoto, Lancaster, Guyer, and Tyler John Tyler. Bloomgren also signed Tre’Shon Devones, again from Duncanville, another taller corner prospect.

George Nyakwol riceowls.com

At safety, Rice is young but more established. The safety position starts with Prudy Calderon, the ball-hawk from San Marvelous. He was too impactful to keep off the field, starting by midseason and supplanting a junior incumbent. Leading tackler George Nyakwol joins him. Nyakwol started all thirteen games at free safety in 2018, he and Calderon are All-League caliber players.

Rice signed the rare JUCO prospect in December in safety Naeem Smith an All-American from Ellsworth Junior College by way of Iowa City, Iowa. Smith will provide experience for a position that needs it. Junior Dasharm Newsome provides veteran depth as well, playing in six games last season.

The Owls signed a group of high school safeties to help as well. Hunter Henry from Lake Travis is the highest rated. It’s telling that Bloomgren and his staff have been able to go into so many Texas blue-blood prep programs and pull talent. Henry looks like a candidate to grow into an active linebacker at the collegiate level.

Kirk Lockhart is another Cedar Hill prospect and a two-star rated safety. He’s a center fielder who covers a lot of acreage, and again, he’s run into some excellent receiving talent as a high school player. Chike Anigbogu lists as a safety but played a rush linebacker for Missouri City Ridge Point. He’s a hit first ask questions later box safety if he stays in the secondary.

Again, secondary isn’t a position you want to rely on an overage of youth, but Rice will do so out of necessity in 2019. The Owls might struggle again on the back end, but the groundwork is there for improvement down the road.

Specialists

American Hero Jack Fox is off to try to catch on with an NFL team, leaving the Owls without a punter, placekicker, kickoff man, and general all-around badass. Fox and Haden Tobola shared kicking duties last season with Tobola taking shorter kicks and making ten of his eleven attempts. Fox was five of twelve. Fox led CUSA with a 45.45-yard average.

Owl special teams helped push opponents back to an average starting field position of the 21, 23rd best in the FBS. Fox accounted for 34 touchbacks on 51 kickoffs.

Former Honorable Mention All-Big 12 punter Adam Nunez comes aboard as a grad transfer. He averaged 39.6 yards per punt in 2016 and 39.3 in 2017. He’s a Second Baptist alum, so he’s coming home to West University. Rice added Charlie Mendes out of Van Nuys, California to the punting group.

Will Harrison probably gets the first crack at place kicking. He made half of his four attempts in 2017 and all 21 of his extra point attempts. Rice signed Zach Hoban out of Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. He hit kicks of 52, and 51 as a prep player, the 52 yarder was a state record for kicks off the ground.

In the return game, Austin Trammell will handle both; he’s a reliable punt returner with great hands. Nahshon Ellerbe averaged eighteen yards on eleven returns in 2017 before injuries cut his season short.

The Schedule

Even if the Owls are improved, the schedule is brutal. They face a tough opener at West Point against what many view to be a top 25 caliber Army team and their flexbone offense. The Black Knights have a two-game winning streak over the Owls.

Last year Rice found itself outclassed by Wake Forest, this year the Demon Deacons come to Rice stadium, the first of three Power 5 programs. Next top 15 Texas meets the Owls at NRG followed by a Baylor team ahead of schedule in its rebuild. A win in any of the four non-league games would count as a huge upset.

The conference slate opens with two CUSA West contenders, Louisiana Tech and UAB. The trip to Birmingham is especially challenging given the way the Blazers destroyed Rice last season. The UTSA game is winnable, but it’s in the Dome, and the ‘Runners are riding a four-game win streak over their rivals on I-10.

Rice’s next four are against division contenders Southern Miss, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, and North Texas. The good news is they get three of those four at home. They finish up at UTEP in a game we’re predicting they win.

Date Day Opponent Conf Prediction Notes
8/30/19 Fri at Army Ind L A growing Army program and the flexbone are a tough ask.
9/7/19 Sat Wake Forest ACC L The first of three Power 5 programs coming to Houston.
9/14/19 Sat Texas Big 12 L An old SWC game at NRG.
9/21/19 Sat Baylor Big 12 L Coming out of non-conference without a slew of injuries would be a win.
9/28/19 Sat La Tech CUSA L The last of a 4 game homestand comes against conference contenders.
10/5/19 Sat at UAB CUSA L Tough trip to B-ham.
10/19/19 Sat at UTSA CUSA L The best hope for a W so far.
10/26/19 Sat USM CUSA L USM are winners of 4 straight in the series.
11/2/19 Sat Marshall CUSA L First of two straight against Eastern Division contenders.
11/16/19 Sat at MTSU CUSA L First ever matchup with the Blue Raiders.
11/23/19 Sat North Texas CUSA L Owls play the Mean Green tough in Houston.
11/30/19 Sat at UTEP CUSA W Two rebuilds compare notes.

The reality is, Rice could be much better in 2019, but the schedule is unforgiving. This team could get to two wins; we’d have a hard time buying into three unless we’re banking on a rather sizeable upset. Still, the Owls are building towards 2020 when their potential and a third Bloomgren recruiting class start cashing in.

Checking out Work:

So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.

Year Predicted Wins Actual Wins
2016 6 3
2017 3 1
2018 2 2

The Roundup…