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Rice Owls Football Preview
by Matt Fargo - 08/11/2008
No. 103 Rice Owls
2007 Record ~ 3-9 SU ~ 5-6 ATS
Starters Returning ~ Offense (9) Defense (7)
It is safe to say that Todd Graham knew what he was doing. After coming to Rice in 2006, he led the Owls to a 7-5 record and its first bowl game since 1961. They lost big to Troy but it was no doubt a step in the right direction. He bolted for Tulsa after just one season and Rice went down again, ending last season with a 3-9 record under first-year head coach David Bailiff. It looks as though another tough season is in store in Houston but there is always the chance of a surprise season.
That surprise season can only come out if the offense can find a running game. Rice finished last season 103rd in the country in rushing offense and it will be up to sophomore Justin Hill and junior C.J. Ugokwe to move things along. It is also up to quarterback Chase Clement, who needs to become more of a scrambler in the spread offense. He along with wideout Jarett Dillard are on pace to become the greatest pass-catch combo in NCAA history as they are six touchdowns shy of the record of 38.
Like the running game, the entire defense needs to get better for Rice to win more games. The Owls finished 110th in rushing defense, 118th in scoring defense, 119th in passing defense and 118th in total defense. Allowing at least 40 points in eight games like last season is not going to get the job done. The good news is that injuries played a big role in the lack of success a season ago and with a healthier and more experienced bunch this year, things can only get better. At least that is the thinking.
Rice will get tested right away as it starts the season hosting improved SMU and then it is three straight road games against Memphis, Vanderbilt and Texas. A mixture of winnable games dots the next five contests and then the Owls close with three straight home games against Army, Marshall and Houston. Six wins are not out of the question but at the same time, neither are 10 losses. Rice will be a team to watch closely early on. If the defense rises up, the Owls will be seeing some great value for us to jump all over.