Rice Football 2011
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011 11:10
Earlier this month, ESPN.com put Head Coach David Bailiff on a list of head coaches in risk of losing their jobs, claiming that his job performance over the last two years, despite the first Rice bowl victory in decades three years ago, puts his future in jeopardy. Surely, Bailiff is feeling this pressure and knows that this is the year in which he and his team must perform, or the last few years of rebuilding will be for naught.
Anything less than a bowl game will be upsetting for a team that returns so much of its talent from the previous campaign. All the big name skill position players are back, leaving the Owls with the possibility of being a really fun team to watch this year. They have the raw explosive talent to turn any play from scrimmage into a big one, but they have to work hard on eliminating the mental lapses and little mistakes that so often set this team back last year. Bailiff knows that his future is tied directly to the stake of the success of his returning players this year.
"It's an exciting year," Bailiff said. "We built some momentum with wins in our last two games last year. We have 10 starters back on offense and eight on defense as well as our two specialists. That gives you a sense of optimism. We have a large group of seniors who have been in this program their entire careers. We have set our goals high. We have set our standards high. Our seniors are doing a good job to make sure everyone achieves everyday."
Rice by far has the most difficult non-conference schedule of any team inside C-USA, playing four teams from the automatic Bowl Championship Series berth conferences, making them the only school in the nation to do so. A punishing three-game stretch starts off this season, starting with a game in Austin tomorrow night against perennial national powerhouse the University of Texas. Next is a home game against a tough Big Ten team Purdue University, and then a tough road game against in-state rival Baylor. If Rice does not jump out of the starting gate, the team can immediately find themselves 0-3, a difficult hole to dig themselves out of if they are interested in a postseason bowl game. A trip to chilly Evanston, Ill. in November to face Northwestern University will cap the Owls non-conference efforts.
Their Conference USA schedule will offer some relief and provide an opportunity for the Owls to build some momentum after the difficult first three weeks. They do open up conference play against one of the top squads in the league, with a game at the University of Southern Mississippi. Last season, Southern Miss was picked to finish second in the East Division and qualified for a postseason bowl game last season. Other notable conference games include the first home conference contest for the Owls against the University of Memphis in early October, the contest for the Bayou Bucket at the University of Houston at the end of October, and a season concluding televised game at Southern Methodist University, who has recently shown interest in leaving C-USA, given Texas A&M University's departure from the Big 12 this past Wednesday.
After a fight that consumed the preseason last year, an injury to the named starter, and a position switch, the coaching staff has finally settled upon a starter at the quarterback position, naming sophomore Taylor McHargue as the everyday quarterback, moving past the experience of senior Nick Fanuzzi and the raw athletic talent of junior Taylor Cook.
McHargue, who started out the season last year against Texas, suffered an injury midseason and sat out half the season before coming back and finishing off the last few games of the year strong – including a big end of the year win against East Carolina University. He had the highest passing efficiency on the team and showed he was able to avoid trouble by moving outside the pocket. Coach Bailiff is e\xcited about McHargue's upside.
"[With] him being back there, you have a sense of optimism about what he is able to do with the football in his hands," Bailiff said. "And he has a pretty good supporting cast in which he has to just do a good job of managing the game, keep the chains moving and that leads us to points. He has been able to do that in this camp. He makes great decisions. He takes care of the ball. That is why he is there right now."
Fanuzzi, among the leaders on the Owls for number of starts, will be his capable backup, ready to return to the field in case of any after effects of McHargue's lingering injuries. It would be surprising to see McHargue being removed from the field for any other reason except for injury, as Bailiff has indicated that McHargue is his man. Cook has been moved from the quarterback position and is now competing for time at tight end.
Stable of Running Backs
The Owls are probably deepest on their roster for the running back position, with a wide variety of options to hand the ball off to. Of course, there is junior standout Sam McGuffie, the most nationally well-known of the Owls and one of the most exciting players inside college football today.
Every time McGuffie touches the ball, there is a chance of a game changing play. He had difficulties last season with trying to do too much on every possession, a habit the coaching staff hopes they have cured him of. Rice's success this season will depend in largely on McGuffie's ability to score touchdowns. They will look for him to be their playmaker all season long. McHargue is excited by the possibilities of McGuffie.