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2009 CFN Rice Preview
Rice WR Toren Dixon
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Rice Owls
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2009 Rice Offense
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Is Rice here to
stay, or did the good times go with the departures of
program-defining QB Chase Clement and receivers Jarett Dillard
and James Casey? It’s a pivotal question that the Owls will
begin to answer this fall.
Head coach: David Bailiff
3rd year: 13-12
Off. 18, Def. 26, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 27
Best Owl Players
1. FS Andrew Sendejo,
2. DE Scott Solomon, Jr.
3. WR Toren Dixon, Sr.
4. S Travis Bradshaw, Soph.
5. LB Terrance Garmon, Sr.
LT Scott Mitchell, Jr.
7. DT Chance Talber, Sr.
Cheta Ozougwu, Jr.
9. WR Corbin Smiter, Sr.
Patrick Randolph, Jr.
2009 Record: 0-0
9/5 at UAB
9/12 at Texas Tech
9/19 at Oklahoma State
10/17 at East Carolina
10/31 OPEN DATE
11/7 at SMU
11/28 at Houston
2008 Record: 10-3
SMU W 56-27
9/6 at Memphis W 42-35
9/13 at Vanderbilt L 38-21
9/20 at Texas L 52-10
9/27 North Texas W
10/4 at Tulsa L 63-28
10/11 OPEN DATE
10/18 Southern Miss W 45-40
10/25 at Tulane W 42-17
11/1 at UTEP W 49-44
11/8 Army W 38-31
11/15 OPEN DATE
11/22 Marshall W 35-10
12/30 Western Mich W 38-14
These are heady times at Rice,
which has bowled twice in the last three years and is coming off
its first 10-win season since 1949. While the Owls have proven
they can win under different head coaches, they’ll get their
first chance to show they can continue rolling with a new man
under center. Yeah, Clement now works for Mass Mutual Financial
Group in Houston, but make no mistake about it—he was a
quarterback, accounting for more than 13,000 total yards and 125
touchdowns, and doing the unthinkable with the program. How in
the world do you replace such an iconic figure?
goes on, which means there’s an opportunity for career backup
John Thomas Shepherd, Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi, and
first-year freshman Ryan Lewis to carve out their own niche in
the resurgence of football at Rice. The one constant will be
third-year head coach David Bailiff, who has quietly righted the
ship since the abrupt departure of Todd Graham, earning
Conference USA Coach of the Year honors and a new five-year
contract. With some wind at his back, he’s hoping to capitalize
on the recruiting trail and at the turnstiles. Bailiff knows
full well that in a city, such as Houston, any retreat will
quickly erode the equity he’s built the last two seasons.
At a school, like
Rice, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re going in
reverse. The Owls can’t afford a nasty retreat after last
season’s heroics, needing to somehow piece together a .500
season in the face of a brutal schedule and massive turnover on
What to watch for on offense:
The summer quarterback battle. All eyes will be on the trio of
passers, who are looking to fill the 16 EE shoes of Chase
Clement. Senior John Thomas Shepherd, Alabama transfer Nick
Fanuzzi, and redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis battled to a deadlock
in the spring. Chapter two takes place this August with more at
stake and far more eyes watching their development. Whoever is
left standing at the end of the month will get the keys to an
offense that’s been highly productive and downright explosive
the last three seasons.
What to watch for on defense:
More pressure the old-fashioned way. Rice would like to use a
variety of blitz packages to get after the quarterback, but too
much selling out leaves an already sketchy secondary naked.
Instead, the Owls will pin their hopes on a pair of junior
defensive ends, Scott Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu, who are
blossoming into Conference USA all-stars. If they can collapse
the pocket on their own, it’ll allow the linebackers and
safeties to stay back on passing downs and support the young
This team will be far better if …the
defense picks up where it left off at the end of last season.
The offense won’t be the same without its three big stars, which
means the defense will have to pull more of the weight,
especially in the early going. The unit played surprisingly well
over the last six weeks, attacking the ball
from every angle and clamping down on opposing running games. To
have any chance of approaching last year’s results, Rice must
keep the momentum going and continue creating takeaways.
The Owls open up the season with non-conference game at
UAB. That could be a must-win with road games against Texas Tech and
Oklahoma State to follow followed up by games against Vanderbilt, Tulsa,
Navy and at East Carolina. It wouldn't be a total shock if the Owls
start out 0-7. On the plus side, six of the final nine games are at
home. However, two of the road games are against East Carolina and
Best Offensive Player:
Senior WR Toren Dixon. While Dixon has been plenty productive
over the last two seasons, catching 96 passes for 1,046 yards
and 10 touchdowns, the time has come for him to step outside of
the shadow of Jarett Dillard. While not as dynamic in the open
field or near the goal line, he does bring a certain physicality
to the Owl receiving corps that’ll challenge opposing defensive
backs. At 6-2 and 212 pounds, he’s able to out muscle most
defenders and use his big mitts to pluck the ball out of the
Best Defensive Player: Senior FS
Andrew Sendejo. Part cornerback and part linebacker, the 6-1,
210-pound Sendejo is all-everything as it pertains to the Owl D.
One of the hidden gems on this side of the line for the past few
seasons, he’s a ball-hawk, who’ll punish those receivers
crossing over the middle of the field. The nation’s active
leader in solo tackles, he also has eight career interceptions
and has forced seven fumbles.
Key player to a
The new quarterback. The Owls need to hope that it’s the system
that makes the quarterback, and not the other way around. In the
two seasons that the program has bowled this decade, it’s the
offense that’s led the charge, specifically the passing game. If
either Nick Fanuzzi, John Thomas Shepherd, or Ryan Lewis can at
least do a fair impression of Chase Clement, Rice won’t have the
ground game or the defense to win more than four games.
The season will be a success if ... Rice reaches
.500 and squeaks out a bowl berth. It would speak volumes about
the job being done by David Bailiff and the rest of the coaches
if they can lead the Owls into the postseason in the first
season after QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard have
graduated. Even after going 10-3,
any postseason invite
would be a coup, especially considering the brutal
Sept. 5 at UAB. Just how much rebuilding needs to be
done at Rice in 2009? We’ll get a pretty good idea in this
tougher-than-it-looks road opener in Birmingham. With games
against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Tulsa, Navy, and
East Carolina to follow, the Owls can ill-afford to start slowly
if they have any hope of playing past November.
2008 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: Rice 41.3 -
- Touchdown passes: Rice 48 - Opponents 34
- Net punting average: Opponents 37.2 - Rice 33.8