What Does the Future Hold for the Rice Owls?

It's been a so-so year for Rice sports. The baseball team didn't make it past the NCAA Regionals. The men's basketball team self-destructed. And at one point the football team was 1-5. But then in mid-October, the football team took off, and they won five of their six games to finish the season at 6-6, making the Armed Forces Bowl as a reward.

But what do the Owls have to look forward to in 2013? Let's take a look into the crystal ball...

5. Batter Up:

The number one sport on the Rice campus is baseball, primarily because the Owls, led by coach Wayne Graham, are generally one of the best college baseball teams in the country. And this season, beginning in February, should be no different.

And there will be some extra baseball on campus as the Owls will host the Conference USA baseball tournament, which, for the past several seasons, has been held in Mississippi. The odds are that the Owls will host the first round of the NCAA Regionals with the chance of hosting the NCAA Super Regionals should they get past the regionals.

4. Assistant Coach Lance Berkman:

Speaking of the baseball team, how about Lance Berkman becoming an assistant coach? Wayne Graham told the Press last summer that Berkman would become one of his assistant coaches once he retired from baseball, and recently, Berkman has been working with the team on a voluntary basis.

There is one slight problem: If Berkman, currently a free agent, actually signs with another major league team, then the plan for Berkman to return to school and become an assistant coach goes out the window. But for now, it looks like Lance Berkman could possibly help the Owls batter figure out how to hit breaking pitches come next season.

3. Conference USA It Is:

Rice's cross-town neighbors, the Houston Cougars, are in a bit of limbo as the Cougars' plans to move to the Big East appear to be collapsing quicker than Karl Rove's reputation as a political genius. But things are going and nice and steady for the Owls as they're staying in Conference USA.

Conference USA isn't one of the nation's premier college sports conferences. And it was just about this time last year that the conference seemed to be on the verge of collapse, what with the departures of UH, SMU and UCF, followed at various times this year by Memphis, Tulane and ECU. But while the Big East is imploding because of its attempt to become Conference USA 2.0, Conference USA has gone on a raiding mission of its own, stealing teams from other, lesser conferences, primarily the Sun Belt Conference. This leaves Rice in a relatively stable position, not worrying, at the moment, about its future.

2. What About the Basketball Team:

The men's basketball team was stunned this past off-season by the departure of six players just months after the team had qualified for a post-season tournament for the first time in years. The reasons for the departures are still rather murky, with allegations of improprieties against a former assistant coach while some of the players were alleging some discriminatory treatment at Rice.

But Owls coach Ben Braun has vowed to fight on this season, and the Owls, with the help of returning players Tamir Jackson and Julian DeBose and some walk-ons, have put a team out on the court. Braun says that changes are being made with the program and that the types of players recruited will be a bit different -- he'll go for guys who really want to be part of the Rice experience. But what should have been an up season for the Owls, one that would have seen them compete for the C-USA title, has gone up in flames before the conference season has even gotten underway.

1. Optimism with Football:

The Owls are just under two weeks away from playing their first bowl game since 2008. And the good news for head coach David Bailiff and Rice fans is that most of the current team will be returning next season as there were only eight seniors on this team.

The offense began to really click toward the end of the season, primarily because quarterback Taylor McHargue was healthy. McHargue's command of the Owl offense has grown with each game, and with that command has come increased confidence in himself and the rest of the offense. Rice should also luck out next season because of the weakening, if that's really possible, of Conference USA, which is losing football schools like UH, SMU, ECU and UCF and is replacing them with schools from the Sun Belt Conference, which is lower down in the pecking order. So who really knows, but it looks as if the Owls could be poised to make a bowl game for two years in a row.

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