Football season begins Thursday night for the Rice Owls, and that means it is time for the first annual Thresher Sports game-by-game predictions. This season, Rice takes on two opponents ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25 and plays eight Conference USA games. The Thresher predicts Rice will go 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility for the fourth time in five years.
At Western Kentucky: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.
Rice opens its season on the road against the defending conference champions on a Thursday night in primetime. Rice’s defense will get an early test against the WKU offense, which ranked ninth in the country in yards per game last season and is returning the majority of its starters. The defending conference champions will not falter in the season-opener.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 41, Rice 24
At Army-West Point: Saturday, Sept. 10, 11 a.m.
Rice will take on Army-West Point for the second consecutive season, this time on the road. In a rain-soaked contest in Houston last October, the Owls beat the Black Knights 38-31. Rice’s running game will have a chance to break out against one of the worst defenses in the nation. The Owls will take care of business on the road and rebound from an 0-1 start.
Prediction: Rice 28, Army 24
Vs. Baylor: Friday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
In the home opener, Rice welcomes Baylor, one of the best teams in the Big 12, to Rice Stadium. The Bears have been to six consecutive bowl games and have contended for the national championship each of the past three years. This offseason, however, has been tumultuous, as a sexual assault scandal has rocked the team and the university. Focusing on football, Baylor returns many contributors from a high-powered offense that scored 70 points against the Owls last year. Rice will not be able to keep the Baylor offense in check.
Prediction: Baylor 59, Rice 20
Vs. North Texas: Saturday, Sept. 24, 5 p.m.
Rice plays its second consecutive home game and first home Conference USA game against last season’s last place team, North Texas. The Mean Green are coming off a 1-11 season and have just one winning season in the last 11 years. In a home game against one of the worst team’s in the conference, Rice will take home its second victory of the season.
Prediction: Rice 41, North Texas 17
At Southern Mississippi: Saturday, Oct. 1, 6 p.m.
The Owls will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss. to try to knock off a team that beat them 65-17 last season on its way to the conference championship game. The Golden Eagles will feature a new head coach this season and has lost their top two wide receivers and one of their top two running backs. The Golden Eagles had not won more than three games since 2011 before going 9-5 last year, and without the head coach responsible for the surge, Southern Miss may regress. Rice pulls off the minor upset over the Golden Eagles.
Prediction: Rice 31, Southern Miss 27
Vs. University of Texas, San Antonio: Saturday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m.
Following a bye week, Rice returns home to face the Roadrunners in its third straight Conference USA contest. UTSA went just 3-9 last year but has a new head coach, Frank Wilson, to lead the team this season. Wilson’s brought in quarterback Jared Johnson, a transfer from Sam Houston State University, to compete for the starting job. If Johnson can succeed in the starting role, the Roadrunners could give Rice a test. After a strong showing on the road, the Owls will falter against a lesser opponent.
Prediction: UTSA 35, Rice 27
Vs Prairie View A&M: Saturday, Oct. 22, 2:30 p.m.
Like many schools, Rice will play one game this season against an opponent outside of Division I. For the Owls, that opponent is Prairie View A&M. Last season, the Panthers went 8-2 and are picked to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s west division this season. Despite the team’s success, it is a lower-division school and likely will not be able to compete with a Division I football team like Rice.
Prediction: Rice 52, Prairie View A&M 21
At Louisiana Tech: Saturday, Oct. 29, 6 p.m.
Rice will go on the road to face Louisiana Tech in a mid-season matchup of Conference USA West Division rivals. Louisiana Tech’s defense took a step back last season, giving up more rush and pass yards per game than the prior year. Rice will likely lean on its running game, and although Louisiana Tech’s defense regressed, its run stopping remained strong . The Owls will struggle to move the ball against the Bulldogs and fall on the road.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 30, Rice 14
Vs. Florida Atlantic: Saturday, Nov. 5, 2:30 p.m.
This year is Rice’s turn to host the battle of the Owls. Florida Atlantic went 3-9 last season, but it went just 1-4 in one-possession games last season. The Owls are returning 15 of 22 starters, and this experience should help them improve on a team that lost by just one point to Rice last season in Coral Gables. FAU will hand Rice its fifth loss of the season and its second conference home loss.
Prediction: FAU 27, Rice 21
At Charlotte: Saturday, Nov. 12, 1 p.m.
In their second-ever matchup as conference rivals, the Owls and the 49ers will square off in a late-season game in Charlotte. After a 2-10 season last year, the 49ers enter 2016 looking for their first bowl appearance. Charlotte scored just 17.5 points per game last year, good for just 119th out of 128 NCAA teams. While the defense was slightly better, it still gave up 417 yards per game. The Rice defense will have a chance to break out in this game.
Prediction: Rice 34, Charlotte 7
Vs University of Texas, El Paso: Saturday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m.
Prediction: Rice 31, UTEP 28
At Stanford: Saturday, Nov. 26, time TBA
Rice will close the regular season against one of college football’s best teams. Stanford features one of the top players in the NCAA in junior running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yards last year and was nominated for the Heisman Trophy last season. If all goes well, the Cardinal will be in contention for a national title this season. A victory by Rice would be an all-time great upset, but it will not happen. Stanford has too much talent.
Prediction: Stanford 66, Rice 17
Final Record: 6-6, bowl eligible