Rice finished with just one win last year and only return 11 starters so a ton of improvement is not expected in Mike Bloomgren’s first season in charge. The former Stanford offensive coordinator has a big task ahead of him with issues on both sides of the ball. The Owls have an over/under of three wins (in 13 Games) to go with long +50000 odds to win C-USA (as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook).
Miklo Smalls, who took over at quarterback near the end of last year, left the team for personal reasons in the summer. That leaves a two-man battle between Jackson Tyner (2 TDs, 5 INTs) and Sam Glaesmann (3 TDs, 6 INTs) in the new, pro-style offense. Tyner has the leg up, but as seen last year, nothing is a guarantee if he struggles early. The biggest problem for the offense is on the line where it lost two all-Conference players. Only one starter returns to that group with a couple underclassmen set to start at tackle and center. The running Game was the highlight of this offense last year, but it still managed just 16.3 points per Game. At the least, running back Emmanuel Esukpa (261 yards) looked good in the spring and should get the bulk of carries. The receivers are questionable outside of Aaron Cephus (622 yards, 5 TDs, 24.9 yards per reception) mainly because Rice couldn’t pass the ball last year. To help, Austin Walter and Austin Trammell have experience and the same goes for tight end Jordan Myers.
Five starters return from a defensive unit that allowed 35.8 points per Game. That number was slightly higher than it should’ve been mainly due to a minus-23 turnover differential. Still, it’s not like the Owls stopped many teams from scoring. Roe Wilkins can be a playmaker in the middle of the line after 6.5 sacks last year, but there has to be improvement around him. New coordinator Brian Smith comes over from Michigan as the defensive backs coach, but he’s no longer working with some of the country’s best athletes. Sophomore safety George Nyakwol may be the most promising along with returning cornerback Brandon Douglas-Dotson. Linebacker could be a problem with two sophomores set for starting roles to go with senior Martin Nwakamma.
Clearly, Rice has a lot of work to do in almost every facet of the Game. OUtside of the opener, the Owls don’t have a favorable non-Conference Game and the trip to Hawai’i may have to be a win for them to hit the over. With those two wins, there are at least opportunities for a couple more in C-USA play with late home Games against UTEP and ODU. Even the ones against UTSA and UAB are winnable in the middle of the season. If this team improves at all, Four wins isn’t an impossible task. But with a young offensive line, questionable quarterback play and issues on the defensive side, betting on this team will take some guts.
2018 Rice Owls Football Schedule
Aug. 25 vs. Prairie View A&M
Sept. 1 vs. Houston
Sept. 8 at Hawai’i
Sept. 22 at Southern Miss
Sept. 29 at Wake Forest
Oct. 6 vs. UTSA
Oct. 13 vs. UAB
Oct. 20 at Florida International
Oct. 27 at North Texas
Nov. 3 vs. UTEP
Nov. 10 at Louisiana Tech
Nov. 17 at LSU
Nov. 24 vs. Old Dominion