Blue Hair and Mohawks: Notes From the Rice Owls Media Day

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Pity the fool who mocks the Mohawk.
The Rice Owls' media day on Saturday was a bit looser than the media day held by the Houston Cougars on Friday afternoon. There were more players available. There was more laughter. The coaches mingled with the press. Spirits were high.

It's not that the Owls aren't serious about football, or about the upcoming season. It's just when you're a bunch of guys with Mohawk haircuts that have been temporarily dyed to hide the blue color adopted over the summer, it's going to be a bit more difficult to conduct a press conference in a serious, businesslike manner. And if you were to ask the Owls, that was probably the intent all along.

The Owls may have gone 4-8 last season, but they finished on a high, winning their last two games in impressive fashion as an offense loaded with weapons was finally able to field all of those weapons in the same game at the same time. And this year's Owls, a heavily senior-laden bunch, say they have learned the lessons from last season and are all set to get the job done this year.

The players' "expectations are as high as mine are," head coach David Bailiff said. "We're on the same page there. We expect to have a great camp. We've got tremendous senior leadership. We have leadership from the junior class. We have a lot of guys committed to making this season special."

The key to making the season special will be sophomore quarterback Taylor McHargue. McHargue started the season at QB for the Owls last season before suffering an injury and missing most of the season. But he was the man at the helm of an offense that scored 62 and 28 points in those last two games, and he's got most of his arsenal of weapons returning. An arsenal containing five running backs (Sam McGuffie, Jeremy Eddington, Tyler Smith, Charles Ross and Turner Peterson) that Bailiff contends could start for any other team in Conference USA along with tight ends Luke Willson and Vance McDonald.

"It's a great problem to have," McHargue said of his talented teammates. "The best part is we have a mature group to where if one guy shines, you don't have to worry about somebody else coming to you asking why they didn't get their touches. They understand that this is all bigger than any one guy. And we're going to accomplish this as a group. Different players will shine each week, some more than others. We have so many weapons, that we're just excited -- as a quarterback I'm excited. It's a great problem to have....we're just excited to have that group of guys."

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The Owls are ready to put the helmets on and hit people.

But the key for the Owls this season will the same as it was last season, and that's the defense finding some way to stop opposing offenses. The Owl defense could never get in a rhythm last season, and it often appeared that they'd stopped opposing teams only to give up a big play time after time. But Bailiff and his players think this year will be different as an experienced, healthy group of defenders look to become more aggressive while working on consistency.

"And now, with all these guys with experience, you don't have an excuse," senior nose tackle John Gioffre said. "You're a senior. You've done it. You're a three-year letter, so come on. It's going to be a peer pressure thing, too. I think if we just hold each accountable and just keep it rolling, man -- if we get consistency, which I think is an easier goal than saying we were just terrible..."

And while the Owls might have been in a playful mood on Saturday, they are taking the season seriously, which is something they're going to need to do considering the way in which they're opening the season. They open up in Austin for a Labor Day Weekend battle with Texas, then they host Purdue the next week before traveling to Baylor and Southern Miss the next two weeks. It's not an easy way to start a season, but it's a start Gioffre's anticipating.

"I kind of more like the big running schools, the tough BCS schools, because you've got nothing to lose," he said. "That's a great opportunity for us. Then you move into conference, it's like, you better know your stuff."

It doesn't matter to McHargue. He just wants to play football.

"It's going to be a challenge, but we're welcoming it," he said. "It's just a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz around the program right now. We're fired up. Everybody keeps talking about this non-conference schedule with these four BCS schools [they travel to Northwestern in November], but we're excited for it. We're excited to go after this conference. We're ready to go."

This Owls team has some talent. And they showed last year that they could put points up on the board, and when you play in C-USA, you need to be able to put points on the board. But the points won't matter if the Owls defense doesn't find a way to keep the other teams from scoring.

And as for the Texas game, Bailiff's given his guys all of the motivation they need to put up points and shut down the Horns. A little motivation involving a hair cut and hair dye.

"Absolutely [I'll get a Mohawk [if we beat Texas]," Bailiff said. "[And]...I'm getting so much gray I might go ahead and dye it blue."

ADDENDUM: This was written before Rice released its new policy restricting media access to practice and forbidding tweeting, blogging or any type of live reporting from practice. So make of that what you will.

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