The 2019 Rice Football recruiting class inked 17 players on the first day of the early signing period. Here are a few initial thoughts on the class.
1. Mostly, probably done
At the end of Wednesday, Rice wasn’t waiting for papers from anyone who had already committed to the program. There aren’t any committed players who have yet to make a decision, but there are a few guys the Owls are still talking to as the early signing period continues.
Will Rice sign anyone else? I’d set the over/under on .5 and choosing a side would be difficult. There is at least one prospect close to pulling the trigger, but at this point there’s not enough clarity to bank on anyone else being a sure-fire commitment.
2. Owls nab three instant-impact veteran players
Rice started six upperclassmen (including Jack Fox and Hayden Tobola) in their final game against Old Dominion. This is going to be one of the younger teams in Conference USA next year and the need for some experienced hands on both sides of the ball was evident. That meant dipping into the grad transfer and JUCO market.
Last year the Owls added Blaze Alldredge, Shawn Stankavage, Andrew Mike and Gio Gentossi in the offseason. Three of those four played important roles for the Owls in 2018, none were every down players for the duration of the season.
Nick Leverett, Bradley Rozner and Naeem Smith look to be better fitted for the team as its currently constructed. Each fills a specific need. Leverett will start on the offensive line, Rozner will start on the outside as a wide receiver and Smith can play any of the safety positions, and probably corner in a pitch.
The younger players are the long-term plan, but these three experienced athletes will position the team to win games in 2018.
3. Does Rice have a quarterback problem?
At this point, the word is out Trevor Bycksnki has committed to Buffalo. The Bulls had a quarterback leave the class on the eve of the early signing period and called Bycksnki late Tuesday night. Ultimately he chose Buffalo over Rice.
The decision is puzzling, frankly. Bycksnki had been solid to the Owls for a long time and his skill set and build (6-foot-5, 220-pounds) make him the perfect fit for what coach Mike Bloomgren is looking for on offense. Buffalo is closer to home and they’re winning now (10-3 in 2018), but this one doesn’t make much sense from the Owls perspective.
On the upside, he was a longshot to see the field at Rice. Wiley Green and Evan Marshman are both talented young quarterbacks. Bycksnki was a depth piece. Rice will need to get someone else in the quarterback room with the departures of Stankavage and Jackson Tyner, but this decommitment shouldn’t be too damaging to the 2019 class or the Owls’ future.
4. Don’t get lost in the stars
Services like 247 Sports and Rivals both attempt to provide structure to the chaotic world of college football recruiting. The rankings they produce are helpful and, generally, commendable guidelines when used on a macro level. Many of the 5-star cant-miss players turn out to be as expected while only a smaller portion of the 2-star and 3-star players become transcendent stars.
On a micro level, the rankings are limited. No two players are identical, and there has to be something said about scheme and fit. Bloomgren admitted there are people at those services he trusts, but “there’s never going to be a time where we don’t sit down in a room and put the film on and trust our eyes.” The question, Bloomgren says, is ultimately this: “can they do what we need them to do?”
This staff believes they’ve found the right pieces to do what they need them to do and help them win games. Last year’s class was a testament to those aspirations. A young team led by a 2-star quarterback and low 3-star running back won Bloomgren’s first conference game. That’s not a cop out to say Rice isn’t seeking to improve the talent on their roster, they are. It’s more so a careful caveat when evaluating the quality of each class.
5. Follow the trajectory
Rice signed five players in the early signing period last year, literally days after Bloomgren had been introduced as the next head coach. They finished with a full class ranked 11th in Conference USA with a .7868 average. The 2019 class includes 17 early signees, three which will enroll in classes in January.
The ranking services are still working to get all the Owls’ signees in from this week, but once the full complement of players is in place it should rank above last year’s class. Again, using the rankings as a helpful macro tool rather.
At the end of the day, Bloomgren and his staff are bringing in playmakers to a program with three wins over the past two seasons. As the talent increases so will the winning. Wednesday was a good day, but the best is still to come.