2009 CFN Rice Preview
Rice WR Toren Dixon
Rice WR Toren Dixon
Posted Jul 29, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Rice Owls

Rice Owls

Preview 2009

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2009 CFN Rice Preview | 2009 Rice Offense
2009 Rice Defense | 2009 Rice Depth Chart
- 2008 Rice Preview | 2007 Rice Preview | 2006 Rice Preview 

Head coach: David Bailiff
3rd year: 13-12
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 18, Def. 26, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 27
Ten Best Owl Players
1. FS Andrew Sendejo, Sr.
2. DE Scott Solomon, Jr.
3. WR Toren Dixon, Sr.
4. S Travis Bradshaw, Soph.
5. LB Terrance Garmon, Sr.
6. LT Scott Mitchell, Jr.
7. DT Chance Talber, Sr.
8. DE Cheta Ozougwu, Jr.
9. WR Corbin Smiter, Sr.
10. WR Patrick Randolph, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 at UAB
9/12 at Texas Tech
9/19 at Oklahoma State
9/26 Vanderbilt
10/3 Tulsa
10/10 Navy
10/17 at East Carolina
10/24 UCF
11/7 at SMU
11/14 Tulane
11/21 UTEP
11/28 at Houston

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 3-9

2008 Record: 10-

8/29 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 77-20
10/4 at Tulsa L 63-28
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
11/22 Marshall W 35-10
11/29 Houston W 56-42
Texas Bowl
12/30 Western Mich W 38-14

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.

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 great college 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?

Life 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 offense.

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 cornerbacks.

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 Schedule
: 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 Houston.

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 air.

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 successful season: 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 non-conference schedule.

Key game: 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 - Opponents 33.3
- Touchdown passes: Rice 48 - Opponents 34
- Net punting average: Opponents 37.2 - Rice 33.8