Even in a strange 2020 season, Rice’s season was quite unusual. The Owls went 2-3 with no games before late October and those 5 games featured: an OT loss vs MTSU with a ‘quadruple doink’ field goal miss and the Owls’ first shutout of a ranked opponent since 1960 (a 21-0 win over #15 Marshall).
That 5-game season confirmed the Owls had one of Conference USA’s better defenses, but still hadn’t exactly figured out the offense.
Rice HC Mike Bloomgren’s goal since arriving on South Main is to replicate the ball control, power-run offenses he oversaw as an assistant at Stanford, or as the Owls have dubbed it: 'Intellectual Brutality'.
Last year’s top QB Mike Collins was the best Bloomgren’s had here, but he’s gone and none of the returning QBs stood out in spring practice. Enter Nebraska and (briefly) Louisville transfer QB Luke McCaffrey with 4 years of eligibility. In 2020, McCaffrey started 2 games for Nebraska (beating Penn St in 1) and showed real ability to run the ball, rushing for 364 yards (5.6 yds/carry).
On the flip side though, McCaffrey only has 1 career touchdown pass to 6 interceptions. I still expect he’ll start over returners: junior Wiley Green and RS-freshman Jovoni Johnson.
A 2-headed rushing attack of RS-freshman Khalan Griffin and sophomore Juma Otoviano could give the Owls their best rushing attack under Bloomgren, though Otoviano has struggled to stay healthy (not unlike UH’s Mulbah Car).
The biggest question is receiver, big 6’5” senior Bradley Rozner is back after opting out of 2020 injured (770 rec yds ’19) but not much else proven is back.
Up front junior Shea Baker and sophomore Clay Servin are back as multi-year starters and Colgate grad transfer Jovaun Woolford returns for a 6th year.
The top defender from last year: LB Blaze Alldredge, grad transferred to Mizzou but multi-year starter junior Antonio Montero is more than capable of being the Owls’ middle linebacker. However, there isn’t much in proven experience at linebacker besides Montero.
RS-Sophomore De’Braylon Carroll and 6th year Elijah Garcia are the best interior lineman tandem in CUSA, but it’s less clear who the pass rushers are.
The secondary returns 3 cornerbacks with experience and veteran starters: senior George Nyakwol (Free Safety) and Treshawn Chamberlain (Viper).
Rice DC Brian Smith is a star, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a bigger name job in 2022.