The Owls take on Texas and Baylor, but the conference schedule is manageable, with Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech coming to Houston. Let QB Driphus Jackson do his thing and another bowl appearance will be in the works.
How the Owls beat you:If Jackson, now a senior, began the ’14 season as the biggest question mark, he ended the fall as the Owls’ most critical asset. He took the reins from Taylor McHargue, who when healthy was the starter for four years. Then Jackson threw for 2,842 yards (nearly 500 more than McHargue’s ’13 total) and 24 TDs (7 more), with 42 completions of 20-plus yards (9 more).
How you beat the Owls: Coach David Bailiff prefers the rush—especially on first down, when he ran 70 percent of the time—but seniors Andrew Reue and Caleb Williams are the only returning starters in the trenches. The run game is stuffable (140 rushes for zero or negative yards, No. 113 in the FBS), so a new-look O-line may cause hiccups, even for a veteran RB corps.
How the Owls beat you: Rice’s aggressive 4-2-5 came up with a middle-of-the-road 20 turnovers last year (No. 65 in the FBS), but the team recorded six of its wins when it won the TO battle. Sophomore DE Graysen Schantz, who earned All-C-USA freshman honors, forced two fumbles and should increase his productivity with a full season of starts (just five last year).
How you beat the Owls: Opposing offenses torched Rice for 19 pass TDs of 20-plus yards last year, second most in the country. And that was with a pass rush that kept QBs honest (39 sacks, No. 14 in the FBS). Most of those sackers are gone, including Zach Patt, Brian Nordstrom and Dylan Klare (22 combined), which will only put more pressure on an already vulnerable secondary.