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Rice Owls Have Questions To Answer Against Talented C-USA Offenses in 2015

The Rice Owls are coming into 2015 riding the high of a 30-6 win in the Hawai'i Bowl against Fresno State. Are the defensive pieces in place for an even more successful 2015?

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Rice Owls had one of their most successful seasons of late, capping off a 7-5 regular season with a 30-6 win over Fresno State in the Hawai'I Bowl. Driphus Jackson threw for 318 yards with three touchdowns and the running back position gained 137 yards on 40 attempts (3.4 ypc) in the win.

The 2015 Owls have a lot to look forward to as they welcome back a host of offensive weapons, including a seasoned signal caller in Jackson. He is a duel threat quarterback who rushed for 401 yards to go along with 2842 passing yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior. Rice is losing a very important piece to their offensive success though as Jordan Taylor (54 rec. 842 yds. 7 TD's) has graduated. Taylor was the team's leading receiver for three of his four seasons in downtown Houston and almost doubled the production of any other receiver that stepped on the field a year ago.

The team does retain their third leading receiver in Dennis Parks, but it is hard to not throw a question mark next to the receiver column on who will produce this year. The running back position returns all three of its top rushers from a year ago. Jowan Davis (73.5 ypg), Darik Dillard , and Jackson will all be in the backfield for Rice this year at positions where they should all be more successful. As a team, Rice ranked  57th in rushing a season ago, but should see more production this season running the ball.

The biggest problem for the Owls last season was on the defensive side of the ball; primarily in the secondary. Rice gave up over four yards per rush and over 13 per pass with only nine interceptions all year. Conference USA is a balanced conference for the most part as far as run to pass ratio, but the teams love to throw the football. Unfortunately for the Owls, it doesn't look like the answer is on campus at this time. Ryan Pollard and JT Blasingme are the only returners at the cornerback position from last year's team and they will be asked to carry the load against a very tough schedule of opponents this season. If Rice is to have success as a team, instead of just an offense, the secondary is going to have to take a big step forward. Unlike the offensive side of the ball, the defense doesn't have the benefit of game experience. As this defense goes, so will this team. If this defense struggles, the team is going to find the season to be tough.

Looking at the 2015 slate, Rice will take on Texas, Baylor, and Louisiana Tech. Nothing is set until those games end, but all three have more talent on the field than the Owls, and the Bulldogs are the early favorite to win the conference. With three games on the schedule that are leans for the opposition, it is very realistic that Rice could end the season at 9-3 or 8-4 with a bowl berth. With the question marks  on the production of the wide receiver position and the defense at Rice, it is slightly more realistic to me that the Owls have a 7-5 record going into their fourth straight bowl appearance and a chance for their second straight bowl win.