By Paul Tenorio | Orlando Sentinel
July 2, 2013
Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 55: Rice
Coach: David Bailiff (30-44, 6th season; 51-59 overall)
2012 record: 7-6 (4-4 Conference USA; T-third C-USA West)
Look back: Rice got off to a rough start and it looked like the Owls were in for a brutal season last year after losing five of their first six games, including blowouts against UCLA, Louisiana Tech and Houston and close losses to Marshall (54-51) and at Memphis (14-10). The loss to the Tigers Oct. 6, however, would prove to be the lowest point of the year. Rice rebounded to win six of its final seven games, with the lone loss to C-USA champion Tulsa by four points. Rice capped the remarkable turnaround with a 33-14 win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 10
Defensive starters lost: 1
Key losses: TE Vance McDonald, DL Jared Williams, WR Sam McGuffie
Top returnees: QB Taylor McHargue, CB Phillip Gaines, K Chris Boswell, DL Cody Bauer, OL Drew Carroll, WR Jordan Taylor, WR Donte Moore, OL Nate Richards, DB Paul Porras, LB Cameron Nwosu
Strengths: Rice will return one of the most experienced lineups in the country after losing just three starters from a 2012 campaign. QB Taylor McHargue is a threat under center after passed for 2,209 yards with just five interceptions, but he needs to improve on his 12 touchdowns. He will have weapons at his disposal, including leading WR Jordan Taylor (57 rec., 826 yards, 3 TDs) and RBs Charles Ross (800 yards, 5 TD) and Turner Petersen (591 yards, 5 TDs). The kicking game should provide a boost whenever the Owls need it. Boswell went 6-of-8 from outside of 50 yards last season.
Weaknesses: The Owls return 10 starters on defense, but they must improve in several areas. The biggest issue is the team's run defense, which ranked 87th in the country last season after allowing 191 rushing yards per game. Rice gave up 30 points and 425.9 yards of total offense per game last season. While the Owls return all five starting offensive linemen from last season, Rice ranked among the worst in the country in pass protection, giving up 2.54 sacks per game.
Outlook: After a stellar second half of the 2012 season, Rice will be confident going into the fall considering they return most of the lineup from that strong finish. With a true dual-threat quarterback and solid playmaking options, the Owls' offense should be a force. They will count on 10 returning starters to improve on last season's shaky defense. With the turnover in the C-USA, the Owls have a chance to challenge for a spot in the league championship game, but they will have to get past defending champion Tulsa. However, another bowl trip should be well within their reach.
Aug. 31 at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 Houston
Sept. 28 FAU
Oct. 5 at Tulsa
Oct. 12 at UTSA
Oct. 19 at New Mexico St.
Oct. 26 UTEP
Nov. 2 at North Texas
Nov. 16 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 23 at UAB
Nov. 30 Tulane
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