Norm Chow and the Warriors finally wrap up their five-game non-conference slate to open the season in Houston against the defending Conference USA Champions, Rice. Coach David Bailiff and the Owls have had two winning seasons in a row, and are coming off just their second ten-win season since 1949. Here's a preview of Rice and what they'll be bringing to the field before their early October match up with Hawaii:
COACH: David Bailiff
In his 26 seasons as a college football coach, Bailiff has logged a lot of his time inside the state of Texas, starting as a Graduate Assistant and eventually Defensive Line coach at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State (which would later become Texas State). He would return to TSU in 1997 after three years at New Mexico, assuming the role as Defensive Coordinator for the Bobcats. After three seasons at the same position at TCU, Bailiff would be hired at his alma mater as the Head Coach in February of 2004. He coached the Bobcats to a 21-15 record in his three seasons in San Marcos, including an 11-win season in 2005 when the Bobcats reached the NCAA 1-AA Semifinals, losing to eventual national champion Northern Iowa. In 2007 he would accept the head coach position at Rice, leading the Owls to their first 10-win season since 1949 in 2008. Now entering his eight season in Houston, and with a new five-year extension, he's determined to make sure the Owls maintain their winning ways.
CONFERENCE: Conference USA (West)
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
STADIUM: Rice Stadium
2013 SCHEDULE/RESULTS: (10-4, 7-1 C-USA)
|August 31||@ Texas A&M||L 32-51||(0-1)|
|September 14||Kansas||W 23-14*||(1-1)|
|September 21||Houston||L 26-31||(1-2)|
|September 28||Florida Atlantic||W 18-14||(2-2, 1-0 C-USA)|
|October 5||@ Tulsa||W 30-27 (OT)||(3-2, 2-0 C-USA)|
|October 12||@ UTSA||W 27-21||(4-2, 3-0 C-USA)|
|October 19||@ New Mexico State||W 45-19||(5-2, 3-0 C-USA)|
|October 26||UTEP||W 45-7||(6-2, 4-0 C-USA)|
|October 31||@ North Texas||L 16-28||(6-3, 4-1 C-USA)|
|November 16||Louisiana Tech||W 52-14||(7-3, 5-1 C-USA)|
|November 21||@ UAB||W 37-34 (OT)||(8-3, 6-1 C-USA)|
|November 30||Tulane||W 17-13||(9-3, 7-1 C-USA)|
|December 7||Marshall||W 41-24^||(10-3, 7-1 C-USA)|
|December 31||Mississippi State||L 7-44#||(10-4, 7-1 C-USA)|
*Game vs. Houston was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX
^Game vs. Marshall was for C-USA Championship
#Game vs. Mississippi State was played at Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN as AutoZone Liberty Bowl
FIVE PLAYERS YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING OUT FOR:
1. Jordan Taylor, Senior Wide Receiver, (6-5, 210), 2013 Stats: 55 receptions, 848 yards, 8 TDs
After redshirting his first season at Rice and not seeing much field action the following year, Taylor had a breakout year in 2012 with 800-plus receiving yards while averaging 14.5 yards per catch for the Owls. He followed that up by improving his numbers last year with 848 yards and eight scores. Taylor should not only be the best receiving target for Rice in 2014, but one of the best in Conference USA as well.
2. Bryce Callahan, Senior Cornerback, (5-10, 180), 2013 Stats: 34 total tackles, 3 INTs, 10 Pass Breakups
Callahan will be chasing history in his final year at Rice, as he is just five interceptions away from being the all-time interceptions leader in school history. He'll be the leader not only in the secondary, but for the entire Owls defense this fall.
3. Caleb Williams, Junior Right Tackle, (6-3, 285), 2013 Stats: N/A
With 26 career starts under his belt, Williams is the most experienced starter on the Rice O-Line. He was key in helping the Owls put up their best rushing numbers (227 YPG) since 2005. He should be the best guy up front in the trenches for Coach Bailiff.
4. Christian Covington, Junior Defensive Tackle, (6-3, 295), 2013 Stats: 59 total tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks
Up in the front six, Covington has been a stud for Coach Chris Thurmond's defense, helping the Owls become one of the best defenses in Conference USA last year. If he can continue to improve on his freshman and sophomore numbers at Rice, he'll rack up more accolades and land himself on the radar of some NFL teams come next spring.
5. Jowan Davis, Sophomore Running Back, (5-7, 195), 2013 Stats: 95 carries, 476 yards, 3 TDs
Even as a freshman, and behind All-CSU running back Charles Ross, Davis was able to have a very solid impact on the Owls offense. He had his biggest moment against UAB when he racked up 130 yards on 19 carries, including a 17-yard run in OT that set up the game-winning FG for Rice. Now sitting on the Depth Chart as RB1, Davis should be able to keep the offensive production at/near the same level it was at last year.
The return of Davis will definitely benefit the Owls rushing attack, along with the inclusion of other running back like Darik Dillard or Luke Turner into the fold. These three and others will hope to match the 227 yards per game the Owls were able to rack up on the ground behind an offensive line with 92 career starts combined. Through the air, the biggest question mark comes at the Quarterback position. Veteran QB Taylor McHargue has graduated and now it looks like Junior Driphus Jackson Jr. will be handed the reins of the Owls offense this year. Jackson is the most mobile of the QBs currently on Rice's 3-deep depth chart, but if he can't match McHargue's numbers from the previous year, it'll be difficult for the Owls to repeat at C-USA Champs.
Although they lose their top two tacklers from 2013 in Michael Kutzler and Paul Porras, the Owls defense still returns six starters including three in the secondary. Coach Thurmond's 4-2-5 defense will be a change of view from other defenses the Warriors will have faced this year, with one of the best pass defenses in the conference spearheading it this season.
The biggest match up up front will be Caleb Williams vs. Beau Yap, if the 260-pound Defensive End can consistently cause pressure and win the battle in the trenches, Driphus Jackson will be on the run quite a lot. Offensively, Hawaii may be forced to rely on their ground game more against the Owls. So the obvious answer is give it to Joey Iosefa and let him pound it up the middle for 5-6 yards at a time, and he has what could be Norm Chow's best O-Line at Hawaii blocking for him.
At media days this year, Norm Chow said the motto that has been set for his team this offseason is "Finish", after the Warriors lost five games in 2013 by a touchdown or less. I think the Warriors will finally be able to finish and pull the "upset" off on the road over Rice. Hawaii 33, Rice 30 (OT)