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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Rice Owls

2009 Record: 2-10 (2-6 in C-USA)
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: David Baliff (15-22 at Rice, 36-37 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: Texas (9/4), at North Texas (9/11), Northwestern (9/18), Baylor (9/25)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 18.3 points per game (11th in C-USA, 109th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 109 (11th in C-USA, 104th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 195 (last in C-USA)
Total Yards/Game: 304 (last in C-USA, 111th in Nation)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 43.1 points per game (12th in C-USA, 120th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 190 (9th in C-USA, 102nd in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 273 (10th in C-USA, 114th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 464 (last in C-USA, 117th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.75 per game (10th in C-USA, 107th in Nation)
Penalties: 47 yards per game (4th in C-USA)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 8

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Nick Fanuzzi, Jr (162 of 270 for 1598 yds, 11 TD, 8 INT, 159 ypg)
Rushing: RB Charles Ross, Soph (97 carries for 491 yds, 11 TD, 5.0 ypc, 40 ypg)
Receiving: WR Patrick Randolph, Sr (39 rec, 356 yds, 4 TD, 3.3 rec/game)
Tackles: S Travis Bradshaw, Jr (121)
Sacks: DE Scott Soloman, Sr (6.5)
Interceptions: CB Jarrett Ben, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #100
Pre-Snap Read: #103

2010 Pre-Season C-USA West Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #5
Phil Steele: #5

Rice averaged 18.3 points per game while giving up 43 points to their opponents (no FBS team gave up more points than Rice). It's no wonder they finished the season with only 2 wins.Rice looked like they may have started to turn a corner after losing to Southern Miss by 3 and then pulling off back-to-back wins over Tulane and UTEP but then they got solidly thumped by Houston 73-14. Last year was a "rebuilding" year as they fell from 10-3 in 2008 to 2-10 in 2009. Will Rice be reading to get back in the mix in Conference USA? We reached out to Nate Griffin of the Rice Owls Examiner (and also the radio color analyst for the Rice Owls) to get the skinny on this years Rice Owls.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths- The offensive line will be a more cohesive group. Last season, there were 4 sophomores, one junior. After a year, another spring and two a days, these guys will be family. To add with that, the Owls will have a one-two-three punch at running back with speedy and dazzling, hard to tackle Sam McGuffie, the elusive Tyler Smith to hit the gaps, and last year’s freshman sensation Charles Ross. Ross rushed for 11 TD’s in 2009, the most by a freshman RB within C-USA. The QB battle will be bring out the best in the QB’s this season with last year’s starter Nick Fanuzzi going up against Miami transfer, 6’7”, Taylor Cook and redshirt freshman, Taylor McHargue.

Weaknesses- The last couple of years the major weakness was depth. That problem has since been resolved due to better numbers with recruiting. In 2009, younger players were forced to play sooner because of injuries to key veterans. Bailiff has turned this into an advantage and now depth will be a strength during the 2010 season.

Who will be the first major test and why?

You’re kidding right? We open with Texas at Reliant. If you are referring to a conference foe, I would say, SMU. They are the very first conference game and we have them at Rice Stadium. In 2009, they found their identity and would finish 8-5 under second year head coach, June Jones. They would win their first bowl game since 1984 defeating Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, 45-10. They will be potent on offense. While the Mustangs will miss WR Emmanuel Sanders, who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Aldrick Robinson can certainly get the job done and Cole Beasley will fill the spot departed by Sanders. Capable QB Kyle Padron is the right guy delivering the football. He has a rocket for an arm.

What team on the schedule do I fear most?

Don’t know if I would use the word “fear”. I think David Bailiff has put his mark on this team and has instilled a certain toughness. I think the game to mark on the schedule is the in-town rivalry, Rice-Houston matchup. Kevin Sumlin has done a remarkable job with that team. In 2009, the Cougars defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Texas Tech in Houston and Mississippi State in Starksville. The Cougars will have most of the same pieces in place from the 2009-10 team…mainly QB Case Keenum, WR James Cleveland, and KR Tyron Carrier. All three have been selected as Sporting News Preseason All-Americans. This game has “play for pride” written all over it!

Who is the best player that nobody talks about?

Please allow me to rephrase. What players are the best kept secrets? I would have to say TE Vance McDonald with WR Patrick Randolph, a close second. Johnson is a big target at 6’5”, 250. He has great speed and can make the acrobatic catch. What’s really impressive about him is his route running. Randolph, on the other hand, has great speed that allows him to get separation from a defender. If the Owls are able to throw the ball down field this season, Randolph will be on the end of many of those passes.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Most would probably say RB Sam McGuffie. Just take a look at the video on YouTube. We saw similar highlights during the spring. And while he didn’t get to show you all of his talents at Michigan, I do believe he showed just enough to have some idea of what to expect in 2010.

Who is the MOST impactful player on defense?

LDE Scott Solomon followed by RDE Cheta Ozougwu. You could really go either way with this one. Solomon doubles as a DT when needed and can take on a double team. In 2009, Solomon led C-USA defensive lineman with 63 tackles and earned second team All C-USA honors. Ozougwu was second among C-USA defensive linemen with 61 tackles…a career high and 2 behind Solomon.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

The top offensive newcomer is Sam McGuffie…not sure which freshman will make the quick transition from high school to college ball.

What players need to step up to help the team play to its full capability in 2010?

We’ll begin with the defense and the FS position. Xavier Webb filled in admirably for the injured Andrew Sendejo in 2009. It was “baptism by fire” for Webb who stepped in for an All-Conference performer and team leader in Sendejo. If he is to earn the starting role this season, he will need to show a penchant for dominance on every snap. The Owls will need to replace departed LB Terrance Garmon. And looks like the favorite is Trey Briggs. He’s got the size and speed combination at 6’1”, 225 and was a solid number 1 at the end of the spring. Look out for Justin Allen, the Idaho transfer, to be a factor as well.

Offensively, the QB position will be the key component! One of the these three, Nick Fanuzzi, Taylor Cook, or Taylor McHargue, will need to show Coach Bailiff that he wants the job immediately. Last season, the starting QB competition went well into the regular season with Nick Fanuzzi finally chosen as the starter. Chances are, the coaching staff is going to want to solidify that position before the Texas tilt, September, 2010.

Make sure you check out what Nate has to say at the Rice Owls Examiner and if you are within ear shot on a game day then tune into ESPN 97.5 The Ticket to hear his analysis of Rice football.

Previous Conference USA Previews
Houston Cougars
SMU Mustangs
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Tulane Green Wave
UTEP Miners

Next Preview: LSU Tigers

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Tech Hokies
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Independent- Navy Midshipmen
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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