Expectations and Reality
The word this season is expectations. After three straight losing seasons, Head Coach David Bailiff knows that his team's rebuilding efforts must finish soon.
Bailiff has placed his trust in this it- eration of his team, in this specific group of starters, to bring the team back to the heights it reached in 2008.
Expectations are high headed into this season, despite the Owls being a fairly young team and returning relatively few starters compared to the previous seasons.
Expectations were high heading into last season, with a lot more starters returning, but fizzled with the Owls fading after a hot start to the season.
"There are no more excuses for us," se- nior quarterback Taylor McHargue said to Ricefootball.net. "This is a team that can ab- solutely compete for this conference cham- pionship."
With just four starters on offense and five on defense returning, Rice needs new talent to surface. One of those four filled spots is the still-contested quarterback position.
Without success from some of the under- classmen, who will be asked to apply what they did in bursts last year to an entire sea- son, the Owls will struggle to return to Con- ference USA relevance.
The challenge facing these young players is that while they showed glimpses of prom- ise last season, they now must bring that in- tensity and focus to every play to provide the consistent contribution needed by their team.
Perhaps the difference can be the return of Sam McGuffie at slot receiver, healthy for his senior year. The potential McGuffie pos- sesses is easily apparent and could add an entire new dimension to the Owls offense.
His talent can truly elevate the Owls, but he needs to be healthy to contribute at the highest level he possibly can.
At its best, this team has the potential to be explosive. Few teams in C-USA can score like this team when firing on all cylinders.
The defense will be led by senior de- fensive end Jared Williams and junior line- backer Cameron Nwosu as it tries to rebound after a down season. Last year, the Owls struggled to a tune of 462 yards allowed per game, placing them at 111th in the NCAA, numbers they will look to improve on in the upcomingseason.
The secondary, an area of weakness last year, will need to show significant improve- ment as well if the Owls are to remain com- petitive within the conference.
The Owls start this season against UCLA in a prime-time television matchup on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Expect Rice players to have that date cir- cled as their return to prominence, as they hope to challenge in C-USA one more time before conference realignment.
Because of the pending conference rear- rangement, this season will be the last go round for the collection of teams that came together after the fall of the Southwest Con- ference to form what is now C-USA.
If the Owls fail to live up to expectations, this could very well be the final year for Head Coach David Bailiff, who understands the necessity of winning inside college foot- ball. It's all a game of expectations - one that Rice hopes to finally win this season.
The last few years have been a struggle for the Owls, as they have been mired in a rebuilding project.
After reaching the Texas Bowl in 2008, in which the Owls beat Western Michigan by a score of 38-14, the team has endured losing seasons and unreached goals.
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On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice’s men’s team place third with 121 points — their best conference championship performance since 2005 — and the women’s team place fifth with 88 points. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.