In a chilly rain in front of a sparse Stanford Stadium crowd, the Rice football team finished off a 3-9 season with a 41-17 loss to No. 24 Stanford University Saturday night. The loss ushers in an offseason that will spark numerous decisions regarding the coaching staff, though head coach David Bailiff will return to the Owls next year.
Stanford scored on its first possession when junior quarterback Keller Chryst broke free on a 62 yard run. The Cardinal would never relinquish that lead. After field goals on its next two drives, Stanford led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, a short Rice punt and a 33 yard return by junior running back Christian McCaffrey set the Cardinal up at the Rice 23 yard line. On the very next play, McCaffrey caught a 23 yard touchdown pass from Chryst to put the Cardinal up 20-0. At that point in the game, McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, had 129 total yards individually while Rice as a team had just 42 yards of offense.
According to Bailiff, McCaffrey has elite talent.
“I’ve coached for 33 years and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who’s capable of what he’s doing with the ball in his hands whether he’s a running back or a receiver,” Bailiff said.
On its next drive, Rice finally got its offense moving and added a field goal just before the half. Any hope for a second half comeback quickly vanished when McCaffrey scored his second touchdown of the game on a 19 yard run. The teams each scored two more touchdowns, with senior running back Jowan Davis scoring both times for Rice. The loss snapped the Owls’ two game winning streak.
Bailiff said despite the losses, he has been impressed with the hard work his team has put in this season.
“I was really pleased with the effort this football team played with,” Bailiff said. “It was a tough season for us. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to but I’m really proud of this team.”
Rice has now failed to appear in a bowl game for two straight years. After a streak of three straight bowl appearances from 2012 to 2014, the Owls are just 8-16 over the past two seasons. The Owls’ recent struggles have caused many Rice supporters to call for Bailiff to be fired. Despite those calls, Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard announced that the head coach would return next season. Karlgaard said he has lofty expectations for the coach and the team next season.
“While we are all disappointed with the results, there is a plan to turn things around under his leadership next season and I have made the expectations for 2017 very clear to [Bailiff],” Karlgaard said. “We expect to be competitive in every game and to compete for conference championships.”
In his 10 years at Rice, Bailiff has compiled a record of 56-69. Despite the losing record, he has led the Owls to four bowl games and won three of them. The three bowl wins are more than any Rice coach other than Jess Nealy, who coached the Owls from 1940 to 1966 and led Rice to a win in the Orange Bowl and two wins in the Cotton Bowl. Bailiff’s teams have won the 2008 Texas Bowl, the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl and the 2014 Hawaii Bowl.
Rice will now turn its attention to next season. Current freshman quarterbacks Jackson Tyner and J.T. Granato will likely compete for the starting job next season after senior quarterback Tyler Stehling’s graduation. Tyner led Rice to a 44-24 victory over the University of Texas, El Paso last weekend before going just 10-37 for 68 yards in the loss to Stanford. Granato has appeared for stretches to relieve Stehling throughout this season.
Rice will open next season with a rematch against Stanford, this time at home in Rice Stadium. The game is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2.
This piece has been updated to reflect Rice's decision to retain head coach David Bailiff.