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Sunday, September 26, 2021 — Houston, TX °

Football kicks off season with Arkansas, UH, UT

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Pavithr Goli     8/31/21 10:25pm

The Rice football team will kick off their season this Saturday, Sept. 4 against the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR. The Owls look to improve upon their record of 2-3 from last year’s pandemic-shortened season. Despite having only won seven of their 30 games over the past 3 seasons, the team has plenty of optimism going into this season, according to head coach Mike Bloomgren. 

“I think the thing that we are looking forward to, as a team, [is continuing] to improve and take another step in our program,” Bloomgren said. “The things that we talk about around here are winning championships and bowl games. Those are the goals that we set forth and that is what we are pushing towards every day and every minute.”

The first three games of the Owls’ season present one strong challenge after another, as their non-conference schedule is packed. In addition to Arkansas, the Owls will also face off against the University of Houston in the second week of their season, followed by a trip to Austin to take on the University of Texas, Austin.

Bloomgren is wary of their difficult start but said that he sees their first three matchups as a great opportunity for his players. 

“We are excited to be able to play in those venues against those historic programs. Those are great opportunities,” Bloomgren said. “These primetime matchups against those Power 5 opponents are opportunities that we treasure in the schedule.”

Bloomgren added that the first three games will be very indicative of how much the team has improved in years past and the performance in the first three weeks will be critical in setting their expectations for how the season will turn out. 

“We will learn a lot about the character of our team, but more than that, we will see how much we have improved,” Bloomgren said. “We thought that we took some giant strides last year, I think we will learn…  a lot more about where we are and what everyone can expect out of us after the three-game start.”

After Texas, the team will turn to their conference schedule, which begins with an Oct. 2, against the University of Southern Mississippi. Their 8-game conference schedule includes matchups against the entire C-USA western division, as well as Western Kentucky University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. According to freshman running back Khalan Griffin, the team’s leading rusher from last season, the Owls hope to end the season atop the conference and qualify for a bowl game.

“Conference championships are always on the top of the list of team goals along with bowl games,” Griffin said. “I definitely want to win a conference championship and we definitely have the group to do it.

If the team wants to do that, they will rely heavily on a defense that ranked No. 12 in the country in points per game allowed last season. The defense returns 10 of its 11 starters, with the one exception being linebacker Blaze Alldredge who transferred to the University of Missouri. Junior linebackers Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain will look to anchor the defense in Alldredge’s absence.

On offense, the team will look to improve on their 23.4 points per game, which ranked No. 99 in the FBS. Last year’s starting quarterback Mike Collins, and leading receiver Austin Trammell left the team over the offseason. At wide receiver, the team will turn to sophomore Jake Bailey, who was second on the team to Trammell in yards, and redshirt junior Bradley Rozner, who led the team in receiving in 2019, before opting out of last season.

To replace Collins, the Owls will turn to redshirt freshman Luke McCaffery or redshirt sophomore Wiley Green. McCaffrey, a former four-star recruit, transferred to the Owls from the University of Nebraska over the offseason. Green, meanwhile, spent last year as a backup to Collins, after starting seven games in 2019. While the winner of the quarterback competition has yet to be formally announced, McCaffrey said he expects big things from the offense, no matter who’s under center..

“[I am excited by] this offense and the growth that can happen,” McCaffrey said. “There is so much room for improvement [both] from the quarterback standpoint [and an]  offensive standpoint,” McCaffrey said. “It is a continuous cycle of mastering one area of the offense so that I can learn a new area. This is important so that we can keep developing and maximizing our playmakers at the end and also be perfect in the run game.”

Bloomgren and his players believe that the return of fans to the stands will be beneficial for the team.

“I think the fans in the stands help everybody on game day. I think our kids work so hard so many days out of the year in this program for those opportunities and they are only promised this 12 times a year,” Bloomgren said. “The ability to have the player’s family in the stands and for them to be able to watch them will be very awesome.”

The Owls’ first game against Arkansas will start on Sept. 4, at 1:00 p.m.

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