The 2010 Rice football team should have plenty of distinct differences from last year's squad. For the Owls and their fans that piece of news is decidedly good.
No team in all of the FBS fielded a younger starting lineup than the 2009 Owls (14 starters were underclassmen). They finished 2-10. This season Rice should benefit from that painful experience.
Rice head coach David Bailiff also revamped his staff, adding former Kansas assistant David Beaty as offensive coordinator and shuffling many assistants into new roles.
The Owls also should benefit from a sudden talent influx -- Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie -- because their running game, which had struggled, is stronger.
The hope is it can get Rice back to bowl contention in Conference USA.NOTES, QUOTES
--In one season at Michigan (2008), Sam McGuffie ranked second on the Wolverines in rushing and third in receiving. The high school YouTube sensation was seen as a promising harbinger of the future for the program. This despite being physically homesick. In returning home to Texas, the rejuvenated McGuffie is expected to be a versatile threat for the Owls.
--Concerns about Rice's secondary and linebacking corps might have been quelled a bit in the Spring Game because junior DB Xavier Webb (five tackles, pass breakup) and linebacker Justin Hill (one sack, 3.5 tackles) impressed coaches.
QB Taylor Cook -- The Miami transfer, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 240 pounds, showed efficiency going 12-for-18 for 111 yards and a TD in the Spring Game.
QB Taylor McHargue -- He took advantage of his first peek at relative competition and showcased his versatility in the Spring Game. McHargue completed 8-of-11 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 25 yards.
TE Vance McDonald -- Many of the Rice quarterbacks' passes landed in McDonald's capable hands. Bailiff said the tight end made plays all spring and it culminated with a five reception, 69-yard performance in the Spring Game.
CB Chris Jammer -- Bailiff told the Houston Chronicle that Jammer's play has been "spectacular" this spring. It should help the defense because Jammer played with a shaken confidence last season.
S Paul Porras -- He is considered by some to be the surprise of the spring season. Porras, a redshirt freshman, was brought to Rice as a receiver but has grown into a solid defensive back for the Owls.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our depth is developing, and that's critical to our success. ... There's been a great attitude at these practices. ... We want to do something significant." -- Rice coach David Bailiff to the Houston ChronicleSTRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: With more weapons and experience in place, coaches are stressing tempo for the Owls offense this season.
"The best thing we did was get off to a fast start," quarterback Taylor McHargue said after the March 27 Spring Game. "Sometimes it takes us a little bit to get into that tempo, but we came out and got it started in the first couple drives. That was a big key for us, and trying to maintain that throughout is what's going to lead to wins for us next year."
One aspect in the Owls favor shows up on the schedule. They open with Texas in Houston's Reliant Stadium, but four of their first five games are at home. Rice doesn't venture outside the state of Texas till late October.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Last year the running game was a weakness of Rice, it ranked 104th nationally. Now with an experienced line (anchored by junior tackle Scott Mitchell), the arrival of McGuffie and the return of Charles Ross, the Owls running game could be their strength.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Rice's defense probably won't win games for the team in 2010, but it shouldn't struggle as it did last season. Ten starters return, so the Owls should be more seasoned. Most notable among those, sophomore Travis Bradshaw, who led the nation in unassisted tackles per game (7.5) last year.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: As a freshman Shane Turner had one of the best seasons ever by a Rice kick returner. If he continues that trend the Owls could end an ugly streak. Rice has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1984, the longest drought in the nation.
RB Jeremy Eddington -- Eddington looks to be the back of the future for the Owls, but at 6-2 and 215 pounds he's big and explosive enough to contribute this season if need be. He also played basketball and ran track in high school.
S Gabe Baker -- At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Bailiff says Baker is a big, physical safety who loves to hit. He's one of their highest rated recruits and comes to a position that needs improvement at Rice.
LB Cameron Nwosu -- The 5-10, 223 pound all-state selection is a prototypical linebacker because of his stoutness, strength and quickness. Bailiff said he broke three helmets last season making tackles.
--Offensive lineman Bobby Jansich broke an ankle during spring practice, but is expected to return by the fall.
--Incumbent quarterback Nick Fanuzzi missed the Spring Game with an undisclosed injury. Defensive end Scott Solomon and safety Travis Bradshaw also missed the game with injuries.
--Chris Jones is going back to the safety position.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010