If you asked me at the beginning of the year what I would be writing about regarding Conference USA, one of the last things on my list would be Rice Owls recruiting. Alas, we stand here in early July with the Owls shaping together what looks to the one of the best recruiting classes in school history with over six months left until signing day.
After starting early in April by landing the commitment of coveted three-star offensive linemen Hayden Howerton, the Owls have not slowed down on the recruiting trail. Since Howerton, head coach David Bailiff has landed nine more players for a Conference USA leading 13 total commitments.
Let's take a look at a few players that are currently committed to Rice for the 2017 recruiting class.
Top rated recruit Miklo Smalls is a 6-2, 215 pound athlete from Plano, Texas. He is a three-star recruit that has the chance to play a multitude of positions at the college level.
Three-star cornerbacks Georga Nyakwol and Isaiah Richardson have a chance to fit in quickly. Nyakwol already has four offers, including one from Colorado. Richardson is gaining interest from Iowa State and Minnesota. Fellow three-star cornerback TyRae Thornton was one of the first players to commit to Rice and is a very strong verbal. The one thing all three cornerbacks have in common is height at 6-0 or taller.
Inside linebackers Garrett Grammer and Randall Royal are two Texas natives that chose Rice early in the process.
Needing help on the offensive line moving forward, Bailiff and company have earned verbals from Howerton, Corbin Smith, and Gregor MacKellar. Smith is a three-star tackle that holds an offer from BYU. MacKellar, from Canada, is one of two commits to come from outside of Texas.
Tight end has seen the biggest windfall for the 2017 class with Baron Odom, Brant Peterson, and Jaeger Bull all verbally committed to the program. Odom is the #24 player in Oklahoma. Peterson is physically ready to play at 6-6, 245 pounds, but may end up being a better fit on the defensive side of the ball. Bull is an effective player with 26 catches at tight end as a junior.
Rounding out the group is Beaumont native Chris Boudreaux. The 6-1, 185 pound wide receiver is currently a quarterback, but should be able to transition into a solid playmaker in the future.
For those keeping score, that is seven three-star and six two-star verbals for Rice. They are currently ranked #68 nationally and #1 in Conference USA.
What is the big deal? They are a Houston team with lots of talent in the area. They should be a great recruiting program.
Rice is a private university that has the most strict academic requirements in the conference. It works well with sports like baseball, but can be a problem when it comes to football.
Compare the acceptance rates with the rest of CUSA.
UTEP: 99.8%, WKU: 92.3%, UAB: 86.7%, Marshall: 78.7%, Old Dominion: 76.8%, UTSA: 73.3%, MTSU: 70%, Charlotte: 68.5%, Louisiana Tech: 67.4%, Southern Miss: 66.3%, North Texas: 59.7%, FIU: 43%, FAU: 47.7%, Rice: 16.7%.
While football recruits have a better chance than a normal student to gain acceptance, the requirements are much higher to get into Rice than other CUSA schools.
Oh, that can be a bit of an issue. Have they done well before?
Not exactly. Going back to the 2005, the Owls have been able to break in with top 90 recruiting classes two times (2012 and 2009). The mid 90s has been the most common ranking with a #94 overall ranking on four occasions.
With more teams added to the FBS landscape in recent years, Rice has fallen even further. They were #107 nationally in 2015 and #128 in 2016. According to the 247 Sports metrics, the current class at this point is better than the 2015 class by a fairly wide margin.
Why are they doing so much better?
That is the million dollar question. All of the position coaches are holdovers from last season. It is not as though they brought in a ringer to help recruiting. Rice is still facing the same limitations that they face every year in getting recruits. They are just producing verbals at a level the Bailiff staff has never seen in previous seasons.
Can they sustain it?
At this point, I say yes. They are getting recruits that are good fits and a bit under the radar. They are also getting early verbals. They could lose some down the line, but they are nailing down players that are talented and can actually enroll at the school.
Should we submit to our Owl recruiting overlords?
Not quite yet. It is way too early to give the recruiting crown to Rice. UTSA has 10 verbals, FAU has the highest rating per recruit, and Marshall/Southern Miss will come on down the stretch. I highly doubt Rice ends up with the best 2017 class, but a top 3-4 in CUSA is within their grasp.
If Rice ends up with a top 70 class and the best in CUSA, should we be worried?
I am not one to buy into end of the world scenarios. Still, if you have a bomb shelter, I would advise stocking up in case it happens.
Will this recruiting boom fix what was wrong with the program?
Just getting away from the 2015 season will help the program. The season was a train wreck, but adding talented recruits always helps. Just remember, these recruits are still a long way from playing at the FBS level.