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Black and Blue: Army Black Knights at Rice Owls Preview

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Army rolls into Houston, continuing their quest to become bowl eligible two years in a row for the first time since 1984-1985.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kickoff Time: 6:30 p.m. EST / 5:30 p.m. CST

Location: Rice Stadium, Houston TX

TV: BeIn Sports

Streaming: BeIn Sports

Line: Army -11.5, O/U 47

Series Record: Rice leads the all-time series, 4-2-1.

Last Meeting: Army beat Rice last season for the first time since 1958, winning 31-14


Flying under the radar this weekend is one of the least-anticipated match-ups of the season: Army travels to downtown Houston to take on hapless, struggling 1-4 Rice. Why should you watch? We’ve compiled a handy guide, as this game will turn out to have season-long consequences for both teams.

Why Rice needs to win

Despite a few good seasons, Rice has been on a downhill slide since winning a C-USA title in 2013. The very next year they went 8-5, then 5-7, then 3-9 a year ago, with only UTEP to cushion the fall into the C-USA West basement. Head coach Dave Bailiff has been at Rice since 2007, compiling a 48-53 record, good for a 47.5% winning percentage, which still somehow makes him a Top-Five All-Time Rice head coach, if you don’t count Todd Graham’s single year at the program in 2006.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Rice John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, Rice hasn’t been good, but between Graham and the initial upward trajectory of Bailiff, it would seem Rice was at least holding its own as a member of the new-look Conference USA. But Rice going 3-9 last year was not like Marshall going 3-9 last year; one of these teams has historical success and the other doesn’t. Marshall’s Doc Holliday has a winning record all-time and is expected to turn that ship around. Bailiff? Not so much.

If Rice can figure it out and turn 2017 into a winning season, Bailiff proves that like any quality head coach, there are just up and down years, rebuilding years and high-water-mark years, and he’s the guy who can stick around long-term. If, on the other hand, Rice blows it against 3-2 Army, two weeks after losing 13-7 to, of all teams, the FIU Panthers, Rice’s season is over, and more than likely so is Bailiff’s tenure there.

Why Army needs to win

Well, I mean, c’mon.

Even the most casual football fan, even the fan who trumpets the importance of Power Five teams and looks down their nose at those lowly Group-of-Five types has a passing knowledge of Army football. Historically, lately, there haven’t been a lot of wins here, and at long last, Jeff Monken seems to have both the tools, the dedication, and the drive to succeed.

Army’s last three winning seasons came in 2016, 2010, and 1996. In the latter two cases, the head coach followed up a winning record and a bowl appearance with three losing seasons in a row, and a departure from the program. To break this trend, Monken needs six wins this season, and they need to beat Rice to do it.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

That’s not hyperbole. After this week, every single team remaining on Army’s schedule went to a bowl game in 2016, with the exception of Duke. Duke finished 4-8 last year. This year, through five games, Duke is 4-1.

It’s true, Army went to a bowl last year, too, defeating North Texas, but this was after losing to that same North Texas team during the regular season. The rubber match is Nov. 18, but in the meantime resurgent Eastern Michigan and Temple squads stand in Army’s way. With a loss to Rice, they can give up on the rest of the season, but this is an extreme case and besides, one gets the impression that the rest of the season is meaningless as long as this Army team can beat Navy. Can’t argue with tradition.

Why Rice will win

Despite a 1-4 record, this Rice team played its closest game of the season against a refueled FIU Panthers squad, playing even on rushing offense while losing the air battle, 172-148. Rice will need every last one of those passing yards as they go up against a run-first Black Knight team that’s already amassed over 1800 yards in five games. That’s not a typo.

Rice’s defense hasn’t really been able to stop anyone other than FIU this year, but consider those other losses were against Stanford, Houston, and Pitt. As Rice adjusts to their near-miss against FIU (followed last week by the expected blowout against Pitt), we just might see something new, and if the Owls have any tricks up their sleeve, the time to show their hand is now.

Why Army will win

See above, where it says the Black Knights have over 1800 rushing yards on the season? The Owls have 736. Despite a barely-there passing game, this Army team is not that FIU team, and David Bailiff is no Jeff Monken.

Rice is more balanced, it’s true— they’ve thrown for 709 yards to Army’s 116— but that run game is murderous and Monken is the best coach Army has had in decades. It’d be nice to see this one play close, but Rice has already played in Australia, Pennsylvania and El Paso this season. A home game is sure to feel nice for the Owls, but did we mention Army’s 1800+ rushing yards? If the Black Knights had any passing game at all, they’ve be nationally ranked. Good luck, Owls.

Summary

It’s always fun to watch the sheer number of yards Monken’s Black Knights have put up, and we’re optimistic for Rice but also realistic. The spread is 11.5, and we’re not only predicting an Army win, but they also cover. Comfortably.

Final Score: Army 28, Rice 7