John Royal Rice Owls head coach David Bailiff vows this season will be different
Rice fans being excited about football isn't a common occurrence because it's rare that the Owls give their fans something about which to be excited. The team's been mistake-prone the past several seasons. They've turned the ball over way too much. They've committed stupid penalty after stupid penalty. They've missed tackles and given up way too many big plays on defense.
But things are changing this season. Those are the old Rice Owls. Those are the Rice Owls that lacked depth. That were still learning their way. That may have been in over their heads. Not these Owls. These Owls are different. So they say.
"This year, we're going to set our goals high," Bailiff said on Saturday. "We're going to expect to go to a bowl game. We expect to compete for a conference championship. And that's not coach talk. That's just being around this team, and seeing the type of young men they are and knowing that we have a lot of athletic ability and some depth this season."
But the Owls have said this all before. Last season was going to be different than the season before. The season before was going to be different than the season before that. Yet the Owls finished 4-8 last season after going 4-8 in 2010 and going 2-10 in 2009. So just why should this season be any different?
The players vow this season will be different. They vow they're not going to be making the same mental mistakes that have so plagued the Owls of seasons past. And if they can stop those mental mistakes, then it is possible that the Owls might be able to compete because as any person who has watched the Owls over the past several seasons know, this is a team that essentially has to play perfect football if they're going to defeat most teams.
"Defensively, we've got to reduce some of those big plays we have," Bailiff said. "I think we can do that with the talent we have. And offensively, I think we have opportunities to have big plays, we just have to take care of the football offensively, and create some more turnovers defensively, and I think we're going to get the increases we need on both sides of the football."
The Owls have the weapons to put up lots of points on the scoreboard. Sam McGuffie is healthy, and it appears he will be used in more a receiver function this season than as a running back. Luke Willson and Vance McDonald return as tight ends/receivers/catching machines. Charles Ross and Tyler Petersen will be the key cogs at running back, and Chris Boswell returns as kicker, and he's proven that he can split the uprights from just about anywhere once the team's crossed midfield.
Returning to quarterback the team is Taylor McHargue. McHargue started last season at quarterback, but he quickly became turnover prone, suffered a loss of confidence, and was quickly regulated to the bench. But Bailiff's convinced that McHargue's ready to be the leader the team needs.
"Taylor, he had a great spring, and he's had a great summer," Bailiff said. "And if you watch him, he's got his confidence back. He's got his swagger back. He had that really good freshman year, obviously struggled last year. We're expecting Taylor to take care of the ball and move this offense. And he is very capable."
McHargue's ready to go, and he says he has learned from last year. The key is cutting back on the turnovers, getting the ball to the playmakers, and letting the offense do what the offense can supposedly do absent the mistakes.
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"The pieces are there," McHargue said. "The staff is there. That's why everybody is so excited. There's no reason we can't compete for the conference championship."
Owl fans are right to be skeptical. They've heard this all before. They've seen it all before. It is one thing to say things will be different. But saying things will be different is not the same as things actually being different. Perhaps the Owls stop beating the Owls. Perhaps a bowl game is possible. Perhaps competing for the C-USA conference championship is doable.
But until the season actually starts, this is all just talk. Rice football fans are tired of talk. At some point the Owls actually have to back up their words. And if not this season, then when?