Rice football had a tough 2017 campaign but even a 1-win conference record leaves reasons for Owls to be hopeful for the future.
The non-conference slate for Rice football in 2018 is a mixed bag. From Prairie View A&M to LSU, the Owls will face the full spectrum of difficulty outside the bounds of Conference USA competition. Those games are good measuring sticks for the program but ultimately aren’t as valuable in the long run if Rice doesn’t take care of their eight-game conference schedule.
The Owls weren’t perfect in conference play last season, but they did pick up their lone victory against CUSA foe UTEP. There’s more to the conference story beyond the singular victory. Rice was 30 percent more productive on offense in conference games than they were in non-conference games in 2017.
Here’s how the Rice offense fared inside and outside of CUSA action:
|Per Game Avg||CUSA||OOC||Change|
|Third down conv.||42.6||32.1||33%|
Rice was better across the board in every major offensive metric in conference play. That bump up in production only translated into one win, but its a strong launching point for new head coach Mike Bloomgren and his staff to build on. The Owls must find success in conference play before they can tackle more ambitious goals like another conference championship.
Excluding Rice, five of the 14 teams in conference USA allowed more than 400 yards per game last season. The Owls play four of them this season: FIU, Old Dominion, North Texas and UTEP. Taking advantage of some of the softer defenses in CUSA won’t just pad the stats; it will pave the way for more wins. Rice is already heading in the right direction. They just need to kick things into a slightly higher gear.