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There wasn't much to take away from last season for Rice, finishing with a 5-7 overall record. It was a bit of a disappointment for them considering they reached a bowl game the previous three seasons. The Owls only beat the weaker teams, not having a win over a team with a winning record. And against the C-USA's best, they faltered mightily, losing big to all of the top ones. Their goal this year will be to get that sixth win and a bowl appearance, but nothing about their schedule suggests they can do it.
One of the issues for Rice is at quarterback where senior Tyler Stehling is the projected starter. The senior has bided his team and will finally get his shot under center. However, he hasn't won the job yet for a reason. Head coach David Bailiff switched play callers and is hoping for a more up-tempo attack to try and give his offense some juice.
That said, they'll still be a run-heavy team with Darik Dillard (698 yards, 5 TDs), the top guy in the backfield, to go with Jowan Davis (297 yards), who battled injuries last year. The receivers are young outside of Zach Wright (39 receptions, 554 yards, 5 TDs) and that won't help Stehling in the passing game much.
The offensive line is in a better situation than a year ago with three returning starters, but the right side is mostly new and could hamper the unit.
While the offense was mediocre last year, it was the defense that really had issues, allowing 35.8 points per game. Injuries hurt them for the most part in 2015 and that should help with the two-deep this year. Eight starters return, but a lot of those guys won't be starting this year because they took roles from injured players.
Most of that depth can be seen at end where Rice has multiple guys that can make a difference with Derek Brown, Brian Womac and Graysen Schantz. To help and gain some consistency on the defense, middle linebacker Alex Lyons is back for his senior season. If the ends can get more pressure on QBs, that should lead to better numbers for the secondary that struggled to force turnovers. The secondary has a few returning starters, including Tabari McGaskey who moves from linebacker to strong safety.
The problem for Rice is that the schedule is unkind. If the Owls can't win at Army (won 38-31 at home last year), they may only finish with one non-conference win and that means five C-USA wins will be needed to reach a bowl. Road games at WKU, USM and La. Tech don't help matters, but that also means Rice gets an extremely favorable home slate. To reach six wins, it will require the Owls to beat Charlotte on the road, as well as take down both FAU and UTEP at home.
This is do-able, but it's not clear that Rice can be better than a year ago with Stehling at quarterback. Surprisingly, their over/under at 5Dimes is at 6 wins with the over -170 in July. Reaching seven wins seems like a tall task for this team, though.
2016 Rice Owls Bulldogs Football Schedule
Sept. 1 at Western Kentucky
Sept. 10 at Army
Sept. 16 vs. Baylor
Sept. 24 vs. North Texas
Oct. 1 at Southern Miss
Oct. 15 vs. UTSA
Oct. 22 vs. Prairie View A&M
Oct. 29 at Louisiana Tech
Nov. 5 vs. Florida Atlantic
Nov. 12 at Charlotte
Nov. 19 vs. UTEP
Nov. 26 at Stanford
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