After winning 18 games in their previous two seasons, the Rice Owls fell to a 5-7 record in 2015 to the confusion of most college football analysts who predicted the Owls to finish in the top two of Conference USA West.
The Owls didn't fare much better on the recruiting trail as their 2016 recruiting class wrapped up with a national ranking of 128. David Bailiff and his staff managed to finish in last place in CUSA recruiting despite three CUSA programs losing their head coaches and several others losing the majority of their assistant coaching staff. To add insult to injury, Rice finished just five spots ahead of regional FCS start-up Lamar University.
It struck me as strange that the Owls would struggle so much in recruiting as David Bailiff has a lot to sell. Rice's academic reputation is unrivaled in the conference, the university is located within one of the largest beds of football talent in the world, and the university recently struck ground on a $31.5 million end zone facility. The program has stability under Bailiff and has proven to be a consistent CUSA competitor despite the shortcoming of the 2015 season.
While I like several of the athletes that Rice signed, the class is wholly unimpressive overall. None of the 18 athletes that Rice signed were offered by a Power Five program and several of them were not offered by any other college football programs at all.
Furthermore, several of the signings will be development projects (250 pound DT, 150 pound CB, two TEs under 220 pounds). Rice has certainly excelled at turning under-recruited, undersized prospects into stand outs in the past (Dennis Parks, Darik Dillard, Cole Hunt, etc.) but the Owls will never be able to consistently win Conference USA championships without sustained success against their peers on the recruiting trail.
Recruiting rankings can be quite fluky at the G5 level but they still do a pretty good job at capturing a pure talent level. If the numbers are to believed, Rice could be in for some big trouble in the coming years.
2012: 87th overall (10 3*)
2013: 94th overall (eight 3*)
2014: 93rd overall (five 3*)
2015: 107th overall (seven 3*)
2016: 128th overall (two 3*)
With regional recruiting competitors SMU, UH, TXST, UNT, and UTSA all hiring impressive coaching staffs that have shown serious success and/or potential in recruiting, Rice may need to carve out a new niche in identifying and securing the high school football talent they need to compete for championships. The Owls are facing new competition when recruiting locally but still have plenty of bargaining chips to push onto the table that could gain them access to talent on a national level. A fresh perspective or branding initiative could be needed to push the Owls back to a respectable position in recruiting rankings.