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2012 Rice Preview
Rice RB Sam McGuffie
Rice RB Sam McGuffie
Posted May 14, 2012 2012 Preview & Analysis - Rice Owls

Rice Owls

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: David Bailiff
6th year: 23-38
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Def. 25, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Rice Players
1. LB Cameron Nwosu, Jr.
2. WR Sam McGuffie, Sr.
3. CB Bryce Callahan, Soph.
4. TE Vance McDonald, Sr.
5. TE Luke Willson, Sr.
6. PK Chris Boswell, Jr.
7. KAT Paul Porras, Jr.
8. FS Corey Frazier, Sr.
9. QB Taylor McHargue, Jr.
10. DE Jared Williams, Sr.
2012 Schedule

Sep. 1 UCLA
Sep. 8 at Kansas
Sep. 15 at Louisiana Tech
Sep. 22 Marshall
Sep. 29 Houston
Oct. 6 at Memphis
Oct. 13 UTSA
Oct. 20 at Tulsa
Oct. 27 Southern Miss
Nov. 3 at Tulane
Nov. 17 SMU
Nov. 24 at UTEP

The calendar says that it’s been four years since Rice authored one of its best seasons in school history, an improbable 10-win campaign. Around campus, it might as well be four decades.

Over the past three seasons, the Owls have gone 10-26 to lose all of the mojo that it had when Chase Clement-to-Jarett Dillard was one of the nation’s most prolific pitch-and-catch combos. And since David Bailiff was at the helm during the decline, it’s safe to assume that the sixth-year coach is living on borrowed time these days. If he’s unable to guide his program back to the .500 mark and a bowl game, it’ll be awfully tough to justify a seventh year on the payroll.

Bailiff and his reconfigured staff need results now, or else there might not be a tomorrow. Although the offense has often shown hints of potential in Houston, the defense has long been the weak link of the Owls. The 2011 edition allowed 33 points a game, while ranking 111th nationally.

Enter Chris Thurmond, who was promoted from cornerbacks coach to light the fuse of his defenders. What the new coordinator lacks in top-flight talent, he’ll try to make up for with speed, different looks and an attacking style of play. While there’s cautious optimism about the back seven, the front four endured a major hit through graduation.

Rice is Rice again. And that is not a good development for the program. After catching lightning in a bottle early in Bailiff’s tenure at the private school, it’s reverted back to being one of Conference USA’s whipping boys. Reversing the recent trends will be no small chore considering the talent gap compared to league’s contenders. The coach’s future likely rests on the shoulders of an offense that has lacked consistency of late, and will be breaking in a few too many new starters on the offensive line.

What to watch for on offense: The tight ends to be very busy once again this fall. In Vance McDonald and Luke Willson, the Owls boast one of the most underrated pass-catching tandems at tight end in America. Both players, who’ll share time at “Y” receiver, possess the requisite size and soft hands to be considered legitimate NFL prospects. Considering Rice’s issues on the outside of the receiving corps, QB Taylor McHargue will a lot of his time in the pocket looking for No. 88 and No. 82 streaking across the field on intermediate routes.

What to watch for on defense: More maturity out of the secondary. Yeah, the Owls traditionally house one of the country’s feeblest pass defenses, but there’s bona fide hope that the 2012 edition might take an important step in the right direction. No, Rice isn’t quite going to be UCF or Southern Miss, but improvement should be on the horizon. The defensive backfield features a blooming headline act in CB Bryce Callahan, and a two-deep chock full of returning starters and veterans. CB Phillip Gaines, for instance, returns after missing most of 2011 to injury, and KAT Paul Porras is a former receiver getting very comfortable as a hard-hitting safety.

This team will be far better if … it becomes more effective in the red zone. If Rice is going to become a more competitive program, it needs to own the area closest to the goal line. A year ago, the Owls ranked 75th nationally in red zone touchdown, and were 85th in red zone touchdowns yielded. The result was a school that struggled to remain competitive in the second half of games. It needs to see a little less of its talented PK Chris Boswell and a little more of the other guy’s special teams unit.

The Schedule: The Owls will have to work to get a win early on with one of the BCS-league games - at Kansas - one of the best chances for a victory. Beating Marshall and UTSA at home will be a must with a tough run over the second half of the season going to Tulsa and hosting Southern Miss before going to Tulane. And that's the problem - many of the easier games are on the road including the regular-season finish against UTEP.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Sam McGuffie. From as far back as his high school days in Texas to his cup of coffee at Michigan, McGuffie has always been an eclectic weapon. The senior’s versatility will be on full display this fall, as he makes the move from running back to wide receiver. He’ll be looking to rebound from an injury-riddled junior year, lining up in the slot, spreading out wide and taking the occasional handoff. If the staff can find a way to get his explosiveness out into space, it’s going to do it. While last year’s numbers were modest, this is the same speedy athlete who ran for 883 yards and six touchdowns, while catching 39 passes for 384 yards and three more scores in 2010.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Cameron Nwosu. Nwosu was a revelation for the Owls D a year ago, leading the team with 108 tackles, including six behind the line, and scoring a pair of touchdowns on fumble returns. In many ways the 5-10, 235-pounder is the prototype for a Rice defender, lacking the size to get any love from Big 12 programs, but always brings the right level of intensity and preparedness to the field. Nwosu will have an even bigger role in 2012, becoming more of a leader on an impressionable unit that needs him to be vocal in the huddle.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Taylor McHargue. Of course the Owls want to improve on D, but they’re simply not going to win with defense in 2012. The offense has to turn the corner, which is a clarion call for McHargue to do a lot more than he did last fall. First, the junior has to prove he can remain healthy for an entire season. Then, he must bloom into a legit dual-threat for Rice, raising the level of his passing skills to match his scrambling ability. The program lacks the supporting talent to thrive without dramatically improved play from behind center.

The season will be a success if ... the Owls find the six wins needed to become bowl-eligible and keep the coaching staff intact. Reaching .500 will be a very tall order for this program, especially since it’s going to be the underdog in all five of its September games. Matching the 4-8 mark of the last two seasons is a far more likely scenario for a school that has pressing issues on both of its lines, and typically has trouble winning away from Rice Stadium.

Key game: Sept. 8 at Kansas. In Week 2 last September, Rice stunned a Big Ten visitor, Purdue, in one of Conference USA’s biggest surprises of the year. In Week 2 this fall, the Owls are hoping to capture some momentum and confidence on the back of a Big 12 foe. The Jayhawks have more talent, but they’ll also be ripe for the picking as they break in head coach Charlie Weis and attempt to get beyond last season’s 2-10 debacle. Rice will have to upset more than a few teams to approach bowl-eligibility, and Kansas could provide one of those opportunities.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per catch: Rice 10.6 – Opponents 13.6
- Touchdowns scored: Rice 53 – Opponents 33
- Interceptions thrown: Rice 7 - Opponents 13
- 2012 Rice Preview | 2012 Rice Offense
- 2012 Rice Defense | 2012 Rice Depth Chart