Optimistic Owls Aiming for Continued Success
It's not going to be an easy start of the season for the Rice Owls, traveling to College Station and taking on Johnny Football and the Aggies. But then again, the Rice Owls don't take the easy way out when it comes to starting the football season.
Rice Athletic Department Rice QB Taylor McHargue looks to lead the Owls to a second straight bowl appearance
While this a new season for the Owls, it's not necessarily a new team that'll be taking the field for workouts next week or suiting up against the Aggies on August 31. The team returns 18 starters, and for the first time in memory, there were no offseason changes to the coaching staff. The Owls feel they're ready to play football. And they're prepared to build off of last season's finish while doing something unheard-of for Rice football: going to consecutive bowl games.
"We feel good about [the season]," head coach David Bailiff said at last week's Conference USA media day. "What we have to make sure we do is just keep working. The expectations are high. We've got to learn now, with the expectations, how we're going to play the game."
There are several reasons expectations are high for Rice. There's the large number of returning starters, including quarterback Taylor McHargue. There's the fact that, for the most part, this is the same team that won six of the team's last seven games, including five straight at the end, to not only win a bowl game in dominating fashion, but to finish with a winning record.
Then there's the most important thing. The Owls are still playing in Conference USA, and C-USA underwent quite the change in the offseason, losing Houston, SMU and UCF while adding numerous schools from the minor conferences like the WAC and the Sun Belt. Despite opening the season against the Aggies, the Owls are playing a softer schedule than last year's, and it's one in which the Owls, should they play like they did to end last season, will easily be able to win their fair share of games.
"Winning's fun," Bailiff said. "When you win, the world's right, and when you don't, the world's tough. It was fun to see those young men get on that [season-ending] streak because of the hardships they had persevered through earlier in the year."
The Owls did lose several key players on offense -- top receivers Luke Willson, Vance McDonald and Sam McGuffie -- but the team's leading rusher, Charles Ross, is back as are McHargue, several receivers and an offensive line that finally started jelling at the end of the season, and kicker Chris Boswell, one of the nation's top college kickers who is as close to automatic from long distances as one can find in a kicker.
"He's just so confident in his ability," Bailiff said of Boswell. "I've never been around a kicker -- it's like he has a golf bag...it's amazing what he can do with his foot."