Before spending a misty Saturday morning knocking off Marshall for the 2013 Conference USA championship, Rice went a staggering 56 years in between outright league championships. The last time Rice had won a championship the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, Elvis dominated the music charts and Ghana was just granted independence from the Queen. Rice football was so overmatched in the Southwest Conference they would go 29 years without a six win season.
The move to the WAC was a much-needed shot in the arm for the program, as the Owls would reach their highest win total since 1961 in their first season of WAC competition in 1996. Success would fluctuate throughout the WAC and CUSA years, with 10-win peaks coming in 2008 on the back of the Jarett Dilliard/Chase Clement connection and in 2013 when guys like Taylor McHargue, Phillip Gaines and Charles Ross made up the best Rice squad of the modern FBS era. While Rice enjoyed its best season in recent memory, the program also had to graduate 25 seniors that included 19 fifth-year players and 11 starters.
Was the peak of 2013 a flash in the pan? Has head coach David Bailiff been as successful in developing his younger talent as he was with his last senior class? Will Driphus Jackson be able to lead the Owl offense as confidently as his predecessor? Rice has many questions to address as they head into the 2014 but none is as pressing as the question the program has been trying to answer for over a decade: Can this university build a consistent winner? Here are a few players that lead me to believe that the Owls will maintain success despite a large roster turnover.
Christian Covington - Junior, DT
6'3", 295, and nimble, it's easy to see why NFL draft scouts have drooled over the young Canadian's potential. Christian has the strength and size to take double teams head on and the agility and balance to dance around them. Covington will require special attention from Conference USA opponents' blocking schemes this season.
Bryce Callahan - Senior, CB
Another impact player on the defensive end, Callahan drew half the attention that Phillip Gaines did last season despite his 11 career interceptions. Callahan won't be targeted as much in 2013 with Gaines off the field but he will likely have to cover wide outs on an island, something that he has struggled with when assigned to larger receivers.
Jordan Taylor - Senior, WR
Did you watch Rice give a JFF-less Texas A&M a run for their money last season? If so, you were awarded with a coming out party for 6'5" receiver Jordan Taylor. With good hands and a strong upper body, Taylor can make a serious impact in both the pass and run games with his exceptional blocking technique. I've read that Driphus Jackson doesn't hold on to the ball very long in the pocket which probably isn't good news for Taylor's production totals in 2014 but he remains an impact player and legitimate deep threat.
|8/30||@ Notre Dame|
|9/13||@ Texas A&M|
|9/20||vs Old Dominion|
|9/27||@ Southern Miss|
|10/25||vs North Texas|
|11/29||@ LA Tech|