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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Rice Owls: Preview, TV, Radio, Prediction, Betting Line

In what could be a potential Conference USA Championship Game preview, the Hilltoppers and Owls duke it out in the Lone Star State with both teams coming off of week four blowouts, but each coming from the other end of one.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Holy hell was I wrong last week about the Western Kentucky/Miami (OH) game. I assumed "with WKU's defense, there's no way they're able to win by 20.5," yet alone the eventual score of 56-14. That was really fun. Really really fun.

WKU and Rice are the only two programs that Conference USA claims with at least seven wins in each of the last three years, which should make this matchup a pretty good one. Right? Right?


Start Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Location: Rice Stadium, Houston, Tex.

TV: Fox Sports Networks. Here is a full list of channels and times and all that good stuff.

Radio: WKU - Randy Lee on the WKU IMG Network. Rice - This thing. It's all I could find. I'm also kinda lazy.

Betting Line: WKU -7. Over/Under: 71.5

Rice Owlz: Just as the Tops' sit atop the Eastern Division, Rice comes into Saturday in first place over in the West, and hold a 1-0 conference record after defeating North Texas two weeks ago. Unfortunately, last week wasn't much of a contest as the Owls had to square off against Baylor, and to Rice's credit, they were able to hang 17 points on one of the best teams in college football. That's all I've got.

Overall, the offensive numbers for the Owls are pretty much dead even; they are averaging 225.2 passing yards per game (74th in the nation) and 228.0 rushing yards per game (oddly enough, good for 27th in the country), and on the ground, the work is spread around a good bit.

Samuel Stewart is the leading man, logging 222 yards on 46 touches and three scores, but the Owls also boast three more 100+ yard rushers in Darik Dillard (38 carries, 195 yards), Austin Walter (28 carries, 185 yards) and Jowan Davis (35 carries, 143 yards).  Remember how difficult a time the Hilltoppers had stopping Jordan Howard, and even to a certain extent struggled with Ralph Webb at Vandy? If Rice is going to win, those four guys are going to be the reason for it.

Driphus Jackson has 750 yards and six touchdowns (along with three interceptions) on just 65 completed passes through four games for the Owls, and is arguably a top-three quarterback in the nation (right below Brandon Doughty and Jeff Driskel, but maybe even a peg above Driskel).

Jackson loves, and I repeat loooooves, Dennis Parks, who has 303 receiving yards on 19 catches and three touchdowns. If the Tops can find away to isolate Parks and shut him down, they'll be fine in controlling the passing game. Parks is joined by a pair of other 100-yard receivers in Zach Wright (113 yards) and Temi Alaka (105 yards), but Rice certainly doesn't have the depth at receiving that they do at running back which really could bode good and/or bad for WKU. We'll just have to wait and see.

The Brohm Squad: When your team is on the winning side of a blowout, it's fun because you saw your squad assert its absolute dominance over an opposing club, showing them no mercy and leaving no doubt who the better team on the gridiron (or, pick your battle arena of choice) was.

But, blowouts also suck because part of the fun of watching a team from week to week with a critical/analytical eye is seeing what improvements the team has made and what improvements the team still needs to make, which is really hard to do in a blowout, especially when 49 of the team's 56 points were scored in the first half.

We learned that Doughty is good. But we also already knew that. We learned how lethal Taywan Taylor and Jared Dangerfield are, but again, we already knew that. We learned that Garrett Schwettman is the all-time leading points scorer in Western Kentucky history. Okay, granted we didn't already know that, but it's still fun to talk about. Plus he's money (unless his kick is getting blocked at Indiana), so we could have assumed as such.

If there's an area of concern, Chad Bishop pointed it out on twitter during the game last week when he said that third-quarter offense remains to be a concern for the Tops. WKU has scored 146 points through four games this year, but only 18 of those points have come in the third quarter (including that 21-0 third quarter that lead to defeat in Bloomington). That's 12.3% of the points coming in the third frame, and over the last two third-quarters, the Tops have been completely shutout.

However, while Chad's point was accurate, it didn't really matter in what was a 49-7 game in the third 15 minutes. But, I guess it could become relevant this week. The offense showed it can jump out to a hot start (like it does almost every week) and the defense showed it can actually stop an opposing offense (who knew?!) and hopefully it'll roll into momentum in Houston.

Prediction: My least favorite part of doing these. And I really only do them for funsies - they aren't like, required, or anything. Anyway, remember that thing about how we haven't really learned anything about the Hilltoppers after last week's blowout victory against Miami? (OH)? Well, as much as I hate to say it (and I only do because I don't watch Rice play, well, at all) but it seems that could summarize Rice's entire year. They have two victories - a 56-16 thrashing of Wagner and a 38-24 win over North Texas (arguably the worst team in Conference USA, behind Charlotte, this year).

However, it isn't like the two losses are that surprising either - losses to Texas and Baylor aren't anything to necessarily be ashamed of. So, really, I don't think we know what Rice is this year, and it'll be interesting to see them face a team like WKU who has proven, more or less, what we all thought in the preseason - they're the conference (or at least, Eastern Division) favorites.

I said it above and I'm repeating myself - the outcome all depends on how the Tops handle the Rice running game, meaning all four guys. Not just leading rusher Stewart or number two leading rusher Dillard and so on and so forth, but the rushing game as a whole.

I'm going to say the Tops are able to find a way to contain the 27th best rushing attack in the country and surprise everyone with another convincing win. Last week I didn't believe the Tops could win by 20.5, but this week, I'm feeling that line of seven points is a bit low. Give me another blowout, 52-28.