Philadelphia, PA â" Â 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was not an easy season for the Owls in 2011, as Rice faced a schedule filled with competitive opponents from start to finish, en route to a 4-8 overall record.
David Bailiff's fifth season commanding Rice began with a loss in Austin to the Texas Longhorns (34-9), which was followed by a solid victory over Purdue (24-22) at home. The Owls lost their next two games, both on the road, as they were out-dueled by Robert Griffin III and Baylor (56-31) and the eventual Conference USA champion Southern Miss Eagles (48-24). Rice flew past Memphis (28-6) for its first C-USA conquest, but lost to Marshall (24-20), Tulsa (38-20), and Houston (73-34) consecutively to fall to 2-6.
The Owls managed to outlast Texas-El Paso (41-37) in a shootout next time out, but could not keep up with Northwestern (28-6) in their non-conference finale. Bailiff's squad downed Tulane (19-7) in its final home game before concluding the season with a loss at SMU (27-24).
The Owls missed the bowl season for the third season in a row and finished in fourth place in the C-USA's West Division.
OFFENSE: Rice had sub par production in 2011 with averages of 23.3 points and 347.7 total yards of offense per game. Quarterback Taylor McHargue is the starter for the third consecutive season although he was been relegated to the bench due to poor decision-making and injuries in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Freshman Driphus Jackson is next in line to be the signal caller if McHargue is unable to get the job done. Jackson is a dual threat at QB courtesy of his speed and athleticism, but his throwing precision and overall awareness must improve before he will be ready to lead an offense.
"We're excited about this season. On a piece of paper it doesn't look like we have a lot of returning starters but the reality is we have a lot of young men that got injured early that are coming back this season." said coach Bailiff.
Former Michigan Wolverine Sam McGuffie returns in 2012 after missing all of last season with an injury. Although the undersized speedster (5-10, 200) led the Owls in rushing and receiving in 2010, he will primarily be a slot receiver this season. McDuffie joins what was an already skilled group of wideouts that features the imposing Vance McDonald (6-5, 260) and junior Donte Moore. Rice's passers will also aim at another big target, TE Luke Wilson.
McDuffie's move to slot receiver partially came due to the accomplishments of junior RB Charles Ross. The redshirt junior excels when running between the tackles, but also knows when to cut outside for big gains.
The offensive line is in a year of transition as only guard Drew Carroll (6-4, 280) returns among last year's starters.
DEFENSE: Bailiff made some changes to his defensive staff after the Owls allowed 462.1 yards of total offense and 33.3 points per game last season. Chris Thurmond earned a promotion to defensive coordinator where he will help Rice develop a more successful passing defense.
The team has solid players at both starting cornerback positions in junior Phillip Gaines and sophomore Bryce Callahan. Gaines is injury prone, but effective when on the field. Callahan earned a spot on the Freshman All- American team by reeling in a conference-leading six interceptions in 2011.
Cody Bauer and Jared Williams need to create more pressure from the defensive end positions to discourage opposing quarterbacks from getting comfortable this season. The interior portion of the defensive line has depth, but not great size with senior Jamael Thomas (6-0, 270) and junior Hosam Shahin (6-3, 275) occupying the middle. Linebacker Cameron Nwosu is the most valuable player on Rice's roster. Nwosu recorded a team-high 108 tackles and should once again be the heart and soul of the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Boswell performed very well as Rice's placekicker as a sophomore in 2011 with 17 made field goals in 21 attempts. Two of his misses were from 54-plus yards away. Boswell may have to assume the punting duties as well if freshman Cameron Decell needs more time to develop.
OUTLOOK: Rice has talent on offense, but it needs McHargue, or Jackson, to make smart decisions from the quarterback position. Jackson's scrambling ability may make him a better fit due to the questionability of the offensive line, but the freshman might not be ready right away to tackle Rice's tough schedule.
"We have great senior leadership. We only have eight seniors but they are an elite eight," said Bailiff. "The chemistry has just been great. We have high expectations this year and we expect to compete for the conference championship."
The Owls will host Jim Mora Jr. and the UCLA Bruins at Rice Stadium to begin their season. Rice also faces Kansas, Louisiana Tech, and Texas-San Antonio in its non-conference schedule. Bailiff's team actually has a favorable C-USA schedule with Tulsa being the only road game it has against a team that had a winning record in 2011.
Conference USA lost a lot of its experienced and talented leaders over the off- season. The Owls are not too far behind the leaders, but they will need many things to go their way to compete for a conference title. Rice has a slight chance of returning to the bowl season, but it will need to pull off an upset or two for that to happen.