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NEW ... 2010 Rice Preview
Rice DE Cheta Ozougwu
Rice DE Cheta Ozougwu
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 30, 2010


CollegeFootballNews.com's 2010 Preview - Rice Owls



Rice Owls

Preview 2010
 

- 2010 Rice Preview | 2010 Rice Offense
- 2010 Rice Defense | 2010 Rice Depth Chart
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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: David Bailiff
4th year: 15-22
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 27, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Rice Players
1. DE Scott Solomon, Sr.
2. S Travis Bradshaw, Jr.
3. LT Scott Mitchell, Sr.
4. DE Cheta Ozougwu, Sr.
5. RB Sam McGuffie, Soph.
6. QB Nick Fanuzzi, Jr.
7. RB Charles Ross, Soph.
8. G Jake Hicks, Jr.
9. RB Tyler Smith, Jr.
10. P Kyle Martens, Jr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Texas
Sept. 11 at North Texas
Sept. 18 Northwestern
Sept. 25 Baylor
Oct. 2 SMU
Oct. 9 at UTEP
Oct. 16 Houston
Oct. 23 at UCF
Oct. 30 OPEN DATE
Nov. 6 at Tulsa
Nov. 13 at Tulane
Nov. 20 East Carolina
Nov. 27 UAB

That thud coming out of Houston was Sammy the Owl falling off his rather tenuous perch.

After reaching the height of its modern-day existence in 2008, capping a 10-win season with a Texas Bowl rout, Rice plummeted back to Earth by losing 10 games. It was an epic retreat that was every bit as bad as the record indicated. The Owls ranked last in Conference USA in total offense and total defense, opening the season with nine consecutive losses. At a crossroads in his career, head coach David Bailiff needs to recapture some of the magic he had two years ago, or else this program will be in danger of going into a prolonged slump.

If you look hard enough, there is hope coming out of this program. No school had a younger starting lineup than Rice in 2009, so an extra year of seasoning should produce more stability. The Owls also played better toward the end of the year, generating some momentum with a pair of November wins. Oh, and the team got an instant injection of talent when former Michigan RB Sam McGuffie and Miami QB Taylor Cook decided to return home to continue their playing careers. Those two imports plus incumbent QB Nick Fanuzzi, a former Alabama recruit, should create a lot of excitement from the Rice backfield.

Bailiff and his reshuffled staff know all too well that in a pro town, such as Houston, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re going south. Maintaining any local fan interest requires a much better product than Rice put on the field a year ago. The program still has some equity from 2008’s special run, but it’s fading quickly. Although winning 10 games may feel like a distant memory, the Owls can at least stop the bleeding by becoming more competitive and inching back closer to .500.

What to watch for on offense: The situation at quarterback. The passing game floundered in the first year after Chase Clement’s graduation, ranking 115th nationally in efficiency. In other words, returning starter Nick Fanuzzi has, at best, a loose hold on the starting job. Miami transfer Taylor Cook and redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue both enjoyed positive springs, setting the stage for a competitive and closely-watched race for the top of the depth chart that could linger until just before the opener.

What to watch for on defense: Senior LB Justin Hill. To say that the Owls need more playmakers is a gross understatement after they yielded 43 points a game. Hill has the athleticism and experience to be one of those guys. A former running back, who still needs to play with a little more discipline, he’s poised to finish his career with a flurry and possibly all-star honors. He put down a foundation with 43 tackles as a reserve, and delivered a terrific spring that could be a harbinger of things to come later in the year.

This team will be far better if … the defense can get back to creating loads of turnovers. Hey, this group is not going to stop many opponents this season, but if it can become more aggressive and get the ball backs in the hands of the offense, it’ll at least have some value. The forgotten heroes of the 2008 team were the defenders, who generated 31 takeaways and helped spark a team that was No. 7 nationally in turnover margin. Last year’s squad, however, had only 18 and ranked 107th in the country.

The Schedule: The Owls start out with a nice little layup against … Texas. At least it’s at home. Going to Denton to face North Texas he week after will be a better way to start out the season before dealing with Northwestern and Baylor, but those two non-conference dates are at home as the Owls play four of their first five games in Houston. The first seven games are all in Texas, as are the final two against East Carolina and UAB from the East. Unfortunately, the Tulsa and UCF games are on the road as part of a stretch of three straight road trips and four in a span of five games.

Best Offensive Player: Senior LT Scott Mitchell. On an offensive line that struggled mightily a year ago, Mitchell countinued to stand out in a good way. The rare rock on the left side, he has started 30 straight games dating back to his freshman year, and earned a spot on the All-Conference USA second team. A good all-around athlete, with light feet, he has a chance to parlay this final season into a spot on someone’s NFL roster in 2011.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DL Scott Solomon. He might move to defensive tackle or he might just stay at his familiar end spot this season. It might not matter to opposing linemen, who’ve labored to contain him over the last couple of years. A tireless worker, with heavy hands in the trenches, he’s emerged as one of the league’s toughest pass rushers, bulling his way to all-star recognition and 63 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks last fall.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore RB Sam McGuffie. Sometimes, one player can make the kind of difference that trickles down to the rest of the team. McGuffie has the qualities to be that kind of a guy in his first season. Not your typical talent that winds up at Rice, he began his career at Michigan and was recruited by just about every name brand program in America. An electrifying playmaker, he’s going to be used in a multitude of different ways by the staff this fall. He’s just one guy, but he’s capable of being the physical and emotional spark that was missing throughout 2009.

The season will be a success if ... Rice doubles last year’s win total. Sure, that only means four victories, but what do you expect from a team that was among the nation’s feeblest last season? The non-conference schedule has little give to it, and visits from East Carolina, Houston, and SMU are tall orders. The team might be favored in two or three games all year, which means improving on 2009 will require all of those owlets to grow up in a hurry.

Key game: Sept. 11 at North Texas. If Rice is going to win a game in September, this is going to be it. After being a speed bag for Texas and prior to entertaining Baylor and Northwestern, the Owls will need something positive to cling to before the league schedule begins. A trip to Denton to face an equally porous defense could provide a confidence boost that this program is going to need after having little to crow about in 2009.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per pass: Rice 5.2 – Opponents 9.1
- Touchdowns scored: Rice 28 – Opponents 70
- First quarter scoring: Rice 23 - Opponents 152

- 2010 Rice Preview | 2010 Rice Offense
- 2010 Rice Defense | 2010 Rice Depth Chart
- Rice Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006