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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: David Bailiff, 51-59 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Reagan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Thurmond
Although Driphus Jackson was outstanding in relief of injured Taylor McHargue in the Owls’ Armed Forces Bowl rout of Air Force, completing 15-of-21 passes for 264 yards and two scores, McHargue remains Rice’s starting quarterback. Owls coach David Bailiff points to the senior’s leadership and command of the team, but he mentions that Rice does have “two good quarterbacks.” McHargue is a stalwart, but he needs to be more accurate and improve on last year’s total of 12 TD passes.
If junior wide receiver Jordan Taylor carries over his momentum from the bowl game, when he caught nine passes for 153 yards and scored three times, he’ll help McHargue immensely. Taylor led the Owls with 57 catches last year. Senior Donte Moore is expected to be another prime target, as is junior Mario Hull, who missed last year with an injury after being a Freshman All-America punt returner in 2011.
The entire line that started the bowl game returns, as do all of its backups. Those performers helped Rice average a robust 201.8 yards per game on the ground. Senior left tackle Jon Hodde is a stalwart. Senior center Nate Richards became an immediate leader last year after transferring in from the junior college ranks, and tackle Drew Carroll could be the best of the bunch. They’ll open holes for seniors Charles Ross (800 yards) and Turner Peterson (591). McHargue (667) is a big threat to run as well.
Ten starters return on this side of the ball, but the unit needs to improve after giving up 30.0 points and 425.9 yards per game last year. The improvement will have to start up front, where opponents had great success running the ball, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Senior Cody Bauer is a solid end who made 12 tackles behind the line last year, and senior tackle Hosam Shahin had 9.5 tackles for a loss. Bailiff expects junior Stuart Mouchantaf to have a big impact at tackle this year.
Senior strong-side linebacker Cameron Nwosu was second on the team last year with 92 tackles and teams with junior James Radcliffe (42 stops) in a solid tandem in the Owls’ 4-2-5 configuration. Senior “KAT” defensive back Paul Porras had a team-high 93 tackles and supports the run-stopping efforts well.
There is plenty of talent in the defensive backfield, although Rice will work to improve on last year’s 11 interceptions. Even though senior corner Phillip Gaines didn’t pick off a pass, he broke up 18 of them. Gaines, classmate Alex Francis, and junior Bryce Callahan comprise a great collection of corner talent. Expect juniors Julius White and Gabe Baker to handle the safety work.
Senior placekicker Chris Boswell may or may not have the biggest leg in the nation, but anybody who goes 6-of-8 from beyond 50 yards, with four made field goals of 53 yards or longer, is in the discussion. Redshirt freshman Cameron Decell gets the punting job. The return game has some experience but needs to be more productive.
The Owls won their last five games to finish 2012 with a 7–6 mark, and Bailiff believes there will be a carryover this season. The offense has weapons and a solid offensive front, while 10 returning starters should be enough to help Rice be more formidable on defense.
Having McHargue around helps, because of his leadership, but if the Owls want to be more than just a hair over .500, they must be more effective at every position. Rice showed it could do that in the bowl win. It’s time to do it for 12 games.
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