CFN Preview 2013 - Rice Owls
Rice QB Taylor McHargue
Rice QB Taylor McHargue
Posted Jun 15, 2013 2013 Preview - The Rice Owls

Rice Owls

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: David Bailiff
Seventh year: 33-44
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 28, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 9
Ten Best Rice Players
1. CB Phillip Gaines, Sr.
2. LB Cameron Nwosu, Sr.
3. QB Taylor McHargue, Sr.
4. PK Chris Boswell, Sr.
5. RB Charles Ross, Sr.
6. WR Jordan Taylor, Jr.
7. DE Cody Bauer, Sr.
8. NT Hosam Shahin, Sr.
9. KAT Paul Porras, Sr.
10. DT Christian Covington, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Texas A&M
9/14 Kansas
9/21 Houston
9/28 Florida Atlantic
10/5 at Tulsa
10/12 at UTSA
10/19 at New Mexico State
10/26 UTEP
11/2 at North Texas
11/16 Louisiana Tech
11/23 at UAB
11/30 Tulane
At the beginning of most seasons, Rice has the bar set at earning a postseason berth. This year, the program is thinking bigger.

The Owls are eyeing their best season in five years. And who could blame them for being so ambitious? From the school that closed out 2012 on a five-game winning streak, including an Armed Forces Bowl rout of Air Force, just nine lettermen are no long around. Nine lost lettermen.

Seventh-year head coach David Bailiff and his staff of assistants went with youth a year ago, and they're about to really begin reaping the rewards of their patience and teaching in 2013. How deep and balanced will Rice be by its usually modest standards? Of the 13 Owls who earned at least honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2012, ten are back, three on offense, six on defense and one on special teams.

Rice has few glaring holes on offense, code for the attack picking up where it left off last season. The Owls scored at least 33 points in six of the final seven games, sporting a desirable level of balance. Hard-nosed QB Taylor McHargue will once again lead the unit, getting plenty of help from physical runners Charles Ross and Turner Petersen, and 6-5 WR Jordan Taylor. All five starting linemen return up front, now needing to do a better job of protecting McHargue.

The D has long been a problem for the Owls program. Hope for improvement, though, comes in the form of 10 returning starters. Opponents will still be able to bully Rice on the ground, and the airways will be passable by quality quarterbacks. However, coordinator Chris Thurmond has crafted a feisty group dotted with unsung heroes, like LB Cameron Nwosu, linemen Cody Bauer, Hosam Shahim and Christian Covington and corners Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan. Like the offense, the defense improved as the 2012 season unfolded, a trend the group hopes to further in September.

Change is in the air in Conference USA. Gone from the West Division, where Rice resides, are Houston and SMU, replaced by North Texas, Louisiana Tech and UTSA. The Owls are hoping to capitalize on the departure of two rivals, and the softening of the league landscape by bringing the school its first outright league championship since 1957. If ever it's going to aim high, this is the year to do it.

What to watch for on offense: QB Taylor McHargue to quickly pop back up on his feet after being dinged. The senior absorbs—and dishes out—a fair amount of punishment as a runner, paying the price accordingly. However, now that sophomore backup Driphus Jackson proved in 2012 that he's capable of leading this program, McHargue won't want to give the staff any reasons to pull him off the field. One way or another, both Owls quarterbacks will get snaps in 2013, with drop-offs in production being negligible.

What to watch for on defense: The development of the secondary. The staff really likes the make-up of the D-line, and the linebackers are productive. The fate of the defense rests with a defensive backfield that has no shortage of veteran starters, but a track record of being burned over the top. The Owls improved during the second half of last year, which ought to become a trend in 2013. Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan form an underrated cornerback duo, and safeties Paul Porras, Julius White and Gabe Baker always seem to be around the ball.

This team will be far better if … it performs markedly better in the red zone … both offensively and defensively. On offense, the Owls produced six points on only 57.4% of their red zone trips. Opponents, on the other end, reached pay dirt a whopping 72.3% of the time, eighth worst in the FBS. Rice, which has had problems here for years, needs to find a way to narrow that 15-point gap this year by operating with more efficiency when it matters the most.

The Schedule: The Owls have the potential to come up with a great year helped by getting Florida Atlantic and UAB as the interdivisional games and with a relatively light travel schedule. Going to Texas A&M isn't a good way to kickoff the season, the dates at Tulsa, New Mexico and UAB are the only ones outside of the state of Texas. Getting Kansas at home should be interesting and playing Houston in Reliant Stadium should be fun. However, the Tulsa, UTSA and NMSU games are back-to-back-to-back road battles after going a month without leaving the Houston area. Louisiana Tech is the key game late, but the season could come down to the road trip to UAB and the finale against Tulane.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Taylor McHargue. McHargue is the gritty heart-and-soul of this Owls offense. While only modestly effective as a thrower, the 6-1, 220-pounder is an impactful runner and a leader in the huddle. Playing a full season for the first time in his career, he completed 194-of-325 passes for 2,209 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. And when McHargue left the pocket, he gobbled up another 667 yards and 11 touchdowns on 164 carries, including four runs of at least 40 yards. As long as he can stay healthy, All-Conference USA honors are where the bar is set for No. 16 this season.

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Phillip Gaines. It took a while, but Gaines really came on like gangbusters as a junior. A bit of a liability in coverage when 2012 began, he went on to land a spot on the All-Conference USA First Team by making 33 tackles and ranking No. 2 nationally with 18 passes defended. The 6-1, 185-pound has ideal size to go along with soft hips, a smooth backpedal and the speed to break suddenly on throws. With NFL scouts now paying attention, Gaines has a chance to become more than just a back-to-back all-star.

Key players to a successful season: The defensive backs. This unit, more than any other, is capable of helping the Owls go from a .500 team to one that pushes for nine or 10 wins. The secondary has plenty of experienced defenders and returning starters, but it's time for the results to match the length of their resumes. Too often, Rice gets burned through the air, yielding an unacceptable 14 yards per completion in 2012. If it becomes tougher to throw on the Owls this fall, the program will take one giant leap toward being a threatening team.

The season will be a success if ... the Owls earn a bowl bid … without having to break a sweat. After rallying in 2012, Rice shouldn't have to sneak into the postseason this year, facing a schedule flush with winnable games. The program is good enough this fall to capture the Conference USA West Division, but that's not where pass-fail lies. The Owls, though, are capable of winning eight regular season games for just the second time in the past 14 years.

Key game: Oct. 5 at Tulsa. You want to win the division, and play in the Conference USA title game? Then go out and defeat the defending champs in their building. Tulsa is the favorite out of the West, with Rice eager to move up a rung on the divisional ladder. The Owls have dropped six straight in the series, so this trip has the potential to be a breakthrough that transcends the simplicity of a race to a crown and a Liberty Bowl berth. With an upset at Chapman Stadium, Rice could ensure that the division spends the balance of the regular season looking up at it.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Punting average: Rice 37.0 – Opponents 41.5
- Time of possession: Rice 34:00 – Opponents 26:00
- Red-zone touchdown %: Rice 57% - Opponents 72%
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- 2013 Rice Defense | 2013 Rice Depth Chart