Rice's start not shocking

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Rice coach David Bailiff doesn't proclaim himself a prognosticator, but he saw this type of season coming.

When he arrived on campus two years ago, the team was depleted by injuries. Players were playing out of position to fill gaps and Bailiff said the first time he was able to practice with a full squad was during fall camp of last season. Several young players had to learn on the fly and what resulted was a 3-9 season, the school's worst since 2005.

"Last year, we had the injury bug, so we never really knew what we had," Bailiff said. "We knew we had a lot of talent, but we had to get it on the field."

So by the time this season rolled around, the team was healthy and had experienced what it was like to be at the bottom. There was nowhere else to go but up.

Out of the gate, Rice won its first two games -- both Conference USA games -- and took a quick, commanding lead in the conference standings. It played toe-to-toe with Vanderbilt, despite most of the players' minds being on their homes and families back in Houston in the midst of Hurricane Ike. It struggled at Texas, but was able to move the ball on the Longhorns. And last week, the Owls piled 77 points on a hapless North Texas team.

Scoring is something that's come fairly easy to the Owls this season. They average 41.2 points and 424.6 yards per game. Only twice this season have the Owls scored fewer than 42 points.

They'll face their greatest conference test this weekend when they clash with Tulsa, the nation's top offense.

"We're not comparing this season to anything we've done in the past because this is obviously a completely different team," quarterback Chase Clement said. "This is a team that's led by a completely different group of seniors that I think has a lot better leadership."