The Rice Owls played valiantly in losing to the Texas Aggies. But losing valiantly just doesn't cut it. Not anymore. The coaches want to win games. The players want to win games. What few fans there are want games won. And the brand new, just named Athletic Director wants the football team to play at the same level of the Rice baseball team. So into this environment arrives this week's opponent, the 1-0 Kansas Jayhawks of the Big 12.
Kansas isn't a very good football team. The Jayhawks lost to Rice last year, and pulled out just one win for the entire season. Second-year head coach Charlie Weis structured his recruiting pitch on just how crappy his team is and how likely it was the new recruits would see major playing time from the get-go.
With all of that established, here's a few things to be considered and pondered before the Owls and Jayhawks kickoff tomorrow at Rice Stadium at 6:30 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
Rice's new athletic director is Joe Karlgaard who was hired away from Stanford where he was the senior associate athletic director for development. He was previously the AD at Oberlin and coaches track and cross country at Minnesota. He's well aware of the challenges of guiding an academic school through the minefield of NCAA athletics, and he believes there's no reason that Rice should not be able to compete on a national level in all programs. Stanford does it, and if the Rice baseball team can do it, so can the rest of the school's teams.
"If you look at the elite, private institutions in our country that are playing FBS football - the Northwesterns, the Vanderbilts, the Dukes, the Standfords - there are examples of excellence there that prove that it's not mutually exclusive," Karlgaard said on Monday. "That you can have great academics, and you can hold true to your academic values, and you can pursue elite athletics. That's our job. And I do think there is a place for Rice in that community. And I'm excited to make that happen."
Rice is not Stanford. It's not in a PAC 12-like conference. And as Karlgaard said, Rice isn't a broken program. But maybe expecting Rice to compete on a national level in all sports like Stanford might be asking a bit much. However, for the moment, the Rice football team is situated in a conference where Rice is primed to win games and go to bowl games.
CHECKING IN ON THE JAYHAWKS
Kansas is a bad football team run by a crappy coach who's still trying to live off the myth that he's responsible for the greatness of Tom Brady. But Charlie Weis flamed out spectacularly as the head coach of Notre Dame and bombed as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Florida Gators before being surprisingly hired to run Kansas. His Jayhawks were bad last year, and he sold recruits this year by telling them they'd play right away.
Rice head coach David Bailiff says this Kansas team is way different from the one Rice faced last year thanks to the influx of new talent from the juco ranks. The Jayhawks won their only a game of the season, defeating South Dakota 31-14 last Saturday. The offense, led by highly-touted transfer QB from BYU Jake Heaps, put up only 390 yards -- only 110 yards coming through the air -- and appeared to struggle against a decidedly weaker opponent.
"But there are a lot of new players that are playing [for Kansas], and they probably didn't show us everything against South Dakota that we're going to have to prepare for this week, "Bailiff said Monday." They were very multiple offensively against South Dakota, lots of formations, lots of different plays, personnel groups. But we know that Coach Weis has a lot more that he didn't have to show."
TWO OFFENSES AT THE SAME TIME
Taylor McHargue starts at QB for Rice. Except for a spurt in the third quarter versus A&M when he threw two interceptions, he moved the offense quickly and efficiently. He's got a good arm, 18 x 29, 180 yards and 2 TD passes against A&M, and he's a good runner. But the Owls like to switch things up, so enter sophomore Driphus Jackson who brings a different skill set. He's more dangerous on the run, though he, too, can connect on the pass.
Bailiff likes the confusion it brings to opposing defenses having to prep for both. He likes making the opposition prep for two quarterbacks.
"What a great situation to have where you almost, if you want to, could run two different offenses," Bailiff said. "And I think it forces defenses to continue to prepare for a lot of different looks that we're able to give them."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
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The Owls debuted a really physical running game against the Aggies, and that's a look the Owls will continue to push. Fifth year senior Charles Ross manhandled the Aggie defense, rushing 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns while catching another. He can push his way through the bruisers up front then sprint into the open for huge gains.
"Charles just ran big," Bailiff said. "His leg drive never stopped. You saw Charles move piles."
Ross will be spelled by Turner Petersen, returning from injury, and Darit Dillard. Both can also provide a combination of speed and physicality, and both will take advantage of an offensive line that's finally got not only size, but also talent and depth.
Rice might not play in a major conference, and the team might not be in the national conscious like Stanford, but the Owls are a good Conference USA football team. In the end, if the Owls don't turn over the ball and execute on offense, they should be able to defeat Kansas and even up their season record at 1-1.