The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 87 Rice.
Previewing Rice’s Offense for 2014:
The Owls may have lost last year’s top rusher, Charles Ross, and quarterback Taylor McHargue, but they still have plenty of firepower available this season. New offensive coordinator Larry Edmondson is quite comfortable at Rice, since he has spent the last three seasons directing the passing game and coaching the quarterbacks.
That’s good news for quarterback Driphus Jackson, who missed most of last year with injuries. The junior can pressure defenses by running and throwing, and if he becomes a more consistent passer, Rice will be in good shape. “He had a good spring,” coach David Bailiff says of Jackson. “It was important for his growth that we kept the continuity in the offense. Driphus was consistently able to work on getting better. He’s a tremendous leader of our football team and is courageous.”
Expect several backs to get carries, including Jowan Davis (476 yards), Darik Dillard (396) and Luke Turner. They’ll work behind a line that has three returning starters, although left tackle remains a question mark. Jordan Taylor caught 55 passes and scored eight times last year, making him a top target, and Dennis Parks averaged 17.5 yards on his 29 catches.
Previewing Rice’s Defense for 2014:
The Owls didn’t shackle opponents last year, but they were pretty solid most of the time and held six opponents under 20 points. There is reason to believe that the unit will be even better this year.
Bailiff calls the linebacking corps “the depth of the defense,” but Rice’s defensive front will be pretty good, too. Junior tackle Christian Covington was a first-team all-conference choice last year. Nose guard Stuart Mouchantaf tore his knee last October and was expected to be ready for the opening of preseason camp. However, Mouchantaf was ruled out for the 2014 season in early June. The end positions feature new starters.
Senior weak-side linebacker James Radcliffe has good speed and can find the football, while sophomore Alex Lyons showed he was a sure tackler in space on the strong side in 2013. Expect junior Nick Elder and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Nick Uretsky and DJ Green, to see time at linebacker, also.
Although the Owls return three starters to their five-man secondary, Bailiff acknowledges that the departure of cornerback Phillip Gaines is “a big loss.” But there is a lot of reason for optimism in a secondary that allowed rival passers to complete only 51.7 percent of their throws last year. Senior safety Julius White was third on the team in tackles and picked off two passes, while seniors Bryce Callahan and Malcolm Hill, a converted safety, provide a strong pairing on the corners.
Previewing Rice’s Specialists for 2014:
Junior James Farrimond had a solid season in 2013, averaging 42.1 yards per punt, but he could be better. Hill and Callahan are serviceable return men, but the Owls need to find a new kicker.
The Owls won 10 games last year and took the C-USA title by whipping Marshall in the championship game. Two years ago, Rice fans wondered whether Bailiff was the man to run the program. Now, they are convinced of his ability to lead. The Owls are in a position where they can redshirt just about all their freshmen. That’s huge.
But Rice will be tested this year. The schedule features seven road games with four of the first five away from home. If Jackson can return to the form he flashed at the end of the 2012 season, Rice will be dangerous on offense, thanks to a strong supporting cast around him. The defense is deep and experienced. Another C-USA title may be asking too much, but the Owls should be bowling, for sure.