For the Rice Owls, some of the worst on field play by any team in Conference USA combined with the fact that they were predicted to be one of the top four teams in the conference has caused them to be the most disappointing team in CUSA.
Rice, second place finishers in the CUSA West Division behind Louisiana Tech in 2014, seemed to the media and coaches to be destined for a second place finish once again.
The Owls had quarterback Driphus Jackson returning after a very impressive 2014 season. They were coming off of an 8-5 season that was capped by a dominant win in the Hawaii Bowl over Fresno State. They had multiple starters on offense and defense back from the 2014 season. All the pieces were in place for Rice to make a run and maybe even contend with Louisiana Tech for the division title, right?
Wrong. Rice has been a huge disappointment in a conference that is just flat out not very good this year.
Looking at the four wins on the schedule for Rice, a disturbing trend arises. Wagner, an FCS program, is 1-9 on the year. North Texas is 1-9, Florida Atlantic is 2-8, and Army is 2-8. Think about that for a minute. The only wins for Rice in 2015 are over two 1-9 teams and two 2-8 teams. That is a combined 6-34 among the four teams.
There must be a simple explanation for the inability of Rice to be even competitive in games versus any team of any sort of quality.
Basically, it all comes down to being one of the worst defenses in the nation and an offense that continues to fumble the ball.
When I say that Rice has one of the worst defenses in the nation, I am not exaggerating. The Owls give up 465.3 yards per game of total offense, 191.4 on the ground and 273.9 per game in the air. The average yards per game allowed by Rice is higher than all but 28 offenses at the FBS rank. To simply state it, when your team faces Rices, they suddenly become one of the top 30 offenses in the nation.
The Owls are giving up 38.9 points per game, a third down percentage of 45.5%, and a red zone percentage of 91.7%. To put the icing on the cake of a truly terrible defensive effort in 2015, Rice has given up scoring drives of five plays or fewer on 30 occasions this season. That is an average of three short scoring drives per game allowed.
In addition to the laughable defense provided by the Owls this season, it has been comical to watch the offense unable to come close to handling the football with caution. The offense has fumbled the ball on 20 occasions, losing 12 of them. Jackson has been the most constant culprit with 10 fumbles on the season. Running backs have accounted for eight fumbles, and backup quarterback Tyler Stehling has also fumbled twice.
The biggest issue has been in the option attack. Run back the film to the Western Kentucky game and they had to virtually scrap most of their running game due to the lack of accuracy with the pitch. You expect to see some fumbles in any sort of option, but it was one of the worst single game fumbling exhibitions I have ever seen.
Believe me, I could go on an on about just how bad Rice has been in 2015, but I think you get the point by now.
I haven't even told you the worst part. Rice can still make a bowl. They only have to beat a 2-8 UTSA team and a 2-8 Charlotte program that just joined the FBS. If they end up in a bowl game, there is a very high likelihood that they will be pulverized and make Conference USA look bad.
So, the question becomes, would you rather have CUSA fill all seven bowl tie-ins with a Rice team that has not beaten anyone with more than two wins, or would you rather have Rice lose one of the final two and stay home?