We always talk about teams that finish strong in one season, carrying that momentum over to the following one. While they are ranked on the lower end of our list, there aren’t many more teams in the country that are riding a wave of momentum into 2013 quite like head coach Dave Bailiff and the Rice Owls are. Sitting at 2-6 on Oct. 20, the program rattled off five consecutive victories, including a win over the Air Force Falcons in the Armed Forces Bowl.
With all but three starters returning from that group, it’s hard not to imagine that the Owls could take this upcoming season beyond just being bowl eligible. Is capturing the Conference USA title in their future?
Let’s take a look at the 2013 version of our No. 86 team on the Rant Sports Top 100 Countdown, the Rice Owls:
QB Taylor McHargue returns for his senior season. He’ll be looking to build off of a 2012 campaign that saw him throw for 2,209 yards, 12 touchdowns, and five interceptions. McHargue also brings the dual-threat ability to the table, trying to also capitalize off his 824 rushing yards last season. There was a little resistance during the spring from sophomore Driphus Jackson–who took over for an injured McHargue in the Armed Forces Bowl, but the senior is fully expected to be the man under center during the first week of the season to lead this squad.
As far as hauling passes in from McHargue, junior Jordan Taylor leads a very solid receiving corps. Going back to the theme of carrying momentum over from last season, Taylor’s Armed Forces Bowl stats consists of nine catches for 123 yards, and three touchdowns, giving everyone a bit of a preview of what to expect in 2013. With two of the 2012 starting position losses being wideouts Sam McGuffie and Vance McDonald, Taylor has no choice but to step up and lead.
Handling the pigskin from the running back slot will be senior Charles Ross. Ross is a versatile runner, however just as last season, he won’t have many mind-blowing stats with McHargue doing his share of running as well, but he’ll no doubt be a pace-setter for this offense with his consistent running abilities.
All five starters return on an offensive line that maybe progressed the most out of any other unit on the team in 2012 through the home-stretch of the season. If anything needs to improve it’s the pass-blocking, but a whole year of experience under their belt should make McHargue a very happy man.
Defensive end Jared Williams is the only piece that was lost on this side of the ball from the 2012 campaign. Seniors Cody Bauer and Hosam Shahim seemed poised to lead a unit that was ranked in the top 10 last season in pass rushing. This is always a huge plus in the pass-happy Conference USA.
Senior Cameron Nwosu will anchor the linebackers in his final season as an Owl. Between he and junior James Radcliffe on the outside, that experienced defensive line has some help in case of trouble.
If there are any significant improvements that need to be shown this year, it’s from the secondary. Even with all of the starters returning, they were the definitive Achilles heel in 2012. Cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Phillip Gaines need to become better in coverage than they were last season.
Well, aside from opening up the year against Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies, this program really can go as far as they want to. Their next toughest on-paper game following that is Oct. 5 against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on the road. Louisiana Tech on Nov. 16 could be a difficult contest, but they drew that one at home, giving them a slight advantage.
As I just spoke of, the sky is the limit for this team in 2013. They return virtually everyone, are riding that five-game win streak, and play in a conference where anything is possible–on any given week. Honestly, it’s not inconceivable to see this team finish the year at least with a 9-3 record, and taking the Conference USA title. If the defensive backs have grown into their own, the Owls can certainly own this pass-heavy conference.