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Summer Vacation: Transfers, Skill Positions, and the Rice Owls

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We move on to Team No. 4 of 120.  Time to talk about Sam McGuffie, transfers, tight ends, the 4-2-5 defense, and teams with huge differences between Rushing and Passing S&P+.

Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

Virginia Commonwealth forward Jamie Skeen is the most recent example of what we see often at the mid-major level in basketball -- a player who commits to a major conference squad before eventually transferring to a mid-major and thriving.  Shaka Smart would not be the hottest name in coaching right now if his predecessor, Anthony Grant, had not lured Skeen to Richmond from Wake Forest.

Rice football coach David Bailiff has been hoping to find similar success at the football level; he has taken on a few high-profile transfers in recent years but is still looking to duplicate the out-of-nowhere success he and the Owls found in 2008, when quarterback Chase Clement and receivers James Casey and Jarett Dillard led them to ten wins and a Texas Bowl title.  Running back Sam McGuffie was the highest of the high-profilers, coming in after a year under Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.  He worked out alright in 2010, but neither of Bailiff's major quarterback transfers -- Nick Fanuzzi (Alabama) and Taylor Cook (Miami) -- led Rice back to the promised land of bowl eligibility.  In fact, the Owls have managed just six combined wins since Clement left.

There is hope, however.  Late in the 2010 season, Rice saw youngsters emerge on both sides of the ball, and quite a few of them return for 2011.  Sophomore quarterback Taylor McHargue looked great late, as did running back and Wildcat threat Jeremy Eddington.  There are weapons to work with on offense, but holes still exist, particularly on a defense that was banged up and (stop me if you've heard this one before) gave up far too many big plays in 2010.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Click to enlarge.

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk**: 108
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep Texas 17-34 L 22.4 - 36.3 L
11-Sep at North Texas 32-31 W 12.1 - 28.7 L
18-Sep Northwestern 13-30 L 16.6 - 27.9 L
25-Sep Baylor 13-30 L 17.5 - 28.5 L
2-Oct SMU 31-42 L 30.2 - 36.4 L
9-Oct at UTEP 24-44 L 21.7 - 36.8 L
16-Oct Houston 34-31 W 24.3 - 26.9 L
23-Oct at Central Florida 14-41 L 20.0 - 32.8 L
6-Nov at Tulsa 27-64 L 35.1 - 34.1 W
13-Nov at Tulane 49-54 L 37.0 - 39.3 L
20-Nov East Carolina 62-38 W 37.8 - 34.9 W
27-Nov UAB 28-23 W 26.3 - 29.4 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 28.7 52 38.5 114
Adj. Points Per Game 25.1 79 32.7 106

Note the late offensive surge.  Heading into their late-November matchup with East Carolina, Rice was just 4-18 since the Texas Bowl win, but the offense got hot, and they won back-to-back home games to end the season.  Two games is not a hot streak by any means, but for a program looking for hope wherever they can find it, they'll latch on to that.  Rice's 2011 success could be dependent on McHargue finding stability as a sophomore and a new offensive coordinator figuring out how to put Eddington and McGuffie in position to succeed.  Rice is going to have to put up some fireworks to win games.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 93 98 92
RUSHING 105 107 104 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 76 83 69 101
Standard Downs 92 94 91 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 58 71 56 76
Redzone 112 106 113
Q1 Rk 81 1st Down Rk 101
Q2 Rk 97 2nd Down Rk 93
Q3 Rk 109 3rd Down Rk 50
Q4 Rk 27

Sam McGuffie came to Michigan with one of the more impressive high school highlight reels you will find.  He was one of Rich Rodriguez's first star recruits, and he showed a decent amount of potential in 2008, rushing for 486 yards (4.1 per carry), catching 19 passes and scoring four touchdown.  But after an up-and-down freshman campaign, he transferred to Rice for what he simply claimed were family reasons.  He sat out Rice's horrid 2009 campaign and was expected to become a star as a sophomore in 2010.  Results were mixed.

McGuffie certainly had his moments -- 178 rushing yards against Tulsa, 197 combined rushing and receiving yards against East Carolina -- but they seemed to come mostly after the emergence of fellow back Eddington.  Until November, McGuffie's year was less than impressive.  He managed just 63 yards on 19 carries against an iffy Houston defense, 56 on 18 carries against UAB, and a horrid 18 yards on 14 carries against North Texas' sieve of a defense.  He still figured out ways to make an impact -- he had four catches for 91 yards against North Texas and caught a team-leading 39 passes for the season -- but it wasn't quite the star turn he probably imagined.

Enter Jeremy Eddington.  The freshman did not get his first carry until the SMU game (a one-yard touchdown), but offensive coordinator David Beaty started to get creative over the last half of the season.  Utilized in the Wildcat formation, Eddington rushed 16 times against UTEP and Houston, then went nuts over the last three games.  Eddington had a combined 40 carries for 312 yards and seven touchdowns against Tulane, East Carolina and UAB.  (Not coincidentally, McGuffie had 241 yards on 48 carries, and seven receptions for 109 yards, in those same three games.)

The dual threat in the running game was complemented even more by Taylor McHargue's return from injury.  McHargue started the second game of the season but injured his shoulder and missed a good portion of the season.  He came back for the final two games and went 24-for-37 passing for 345 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions, adding in 155 rushing yards for good measure.

I'm not one for over-reacting to late-season surges (or slumps, for that matter), but in this case, Rice's surge could be relatively legit.  McHargue and Eddington will both be just sophomores in 2011, McGuffie a junior.  To say the least, you can build on that.

Other tidbits:

  • Of course, the offense is not exactly without issues.  The most productive wide receiver last year was Patrick Randolph, but a) he caught just 22 passes, and b) he's gone.  Sophomore Donte Moore (16 catches for 160 yards last year) is officially the leading returning wideout.
  • The tight end position is a strength, though it could be limited without a threat out wide.  Luke Wilson and Vance McDonald were stellar options for McHargue, Fanuzzi and Cook last year -- they combined for 61 catches, 819 yards and 11 touchdowns.  McDonald was outstanding during Rice's late surge; he caught 17 passes for 295 yards and five touchdowns in the last five games.
  • Is the quarterback job McHargue's to lose, or does Nick Fanuzzi still have a chance?  Fanuzzi was certainly not terrible in 2010 (62.7% completion rate, 7.0 yards per pass, 11-9 TD-INT), but Rice's offensive surge certainly coincided with McHargue's reinsertion into the lineup.
  • Rice's emerging skill position depth is impressive, but the line is a question mark.  They were iffy in pass protection and, to say the least, did not do McGuffie any favors in the run-blocking arena. They do, however, bring back a boatload of experience.  Only one senior was in the rotation last year -- tackle Scott Mitchell -- and he missed the last month of the season to injury, meaning all ten spots in the depth chart were occupied by players who return this fall.  Experience doesn't really matter if the players aren't very good, but it's still probably not a bad thing.
  • Offensive coordinator David Beaty got creative late in the year, breaking in Wildcat and using a lot of different weapons.  Beaty left after the season to become offensive co-coordinator at Kansas. John Reagan is new coordinator; Reagan was Mark Mangino's run game coordinator at Kansas.  Reagan will have quite a bit of skill position talent to work with.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 101 70 113
RUSHING 46 43 51 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 116 96 118 59
Standard Downs 99 61 107 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 82 77 81 119
Redzone 109 97 112
Q1 Rk 57 1st Down Rk 75
Q2 Rk 110 2nd Down Rk 93
Q3 Rk 95 3rd Down Rk 100
Q4 Rk 64

Okay, so the offense is likely going to improve in 2011.  Will it matter if the defense doesn't learn how to stop big plays?

Rice runs a variation of the 4-2-5 defense that TCU and others have ridden to fame.  As TCU has proven, a 4-2 front can do great things if you have the speed to pull it off.  As with a 3-4, you are able to get lighter, faster players on the field, and you can disguise what you are doing.  But to me at least, the 4-2-5 is based more around reaction than any sort of attacking nature.  Run to the football.  Leverage them where you want them to go, then swarm.

If a 4-2-5 is based around reaction and swarming ... Rice neither reacted nor swarmed.  They couldn't get pressure on the quarterback without blitzing (and they really couldn't do it then either), and they couldn't stop big plays to save their life.  Only two teams gave up more more big plays than Rice in the passing game, and it negated the fact that their run defense really wasn't that bad.  It wasn't good enough to stop plays behind the line of scrimmage (Rice managed just 37 tackles for loss last year), but it wasn't terrible.  But that pass defense?  Yuck.

Gary Patterson says your free safety should be your second-leading tackler and should be making plays close to or behind the line of scrimmage.  Well, Rice's free safety, Travis Bradshaw, had almost double the total tackles (105.5) than the second-leading player (54.0) in 2009; I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's bad.  It improved last year ... sort of.  Bradshaw's tackle totals (68.0) fell to second place ... behind fellow safety Corey Frazier.  Combined tackles for loss between the two of them: 2.5.  Still probably not what Patterson had in mind.

Other tidbits:

  • Rice basically had one player capable of rushing the passer last year -- defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.  Well, a) his threat was neutralized last year, presumably due to some double teams (his tackles for loss fell from 10.5 in 2009 to 6.0), and b) he's gone now.  So is the second-leading tackles-for-loss guy, Kramer Lucio.  Your leading returning behind-the-line playmaker?  Tackle Michael Smith ... who had 3.0 last year.
  • If there is a saving grace for this defense, it's that they get tackle Scott Solomon back.  Solomon was an all-conference performer in 2009 (51.0 tackles, 10.5 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, making life much easier for Ozougwu) but missed all season to injury.


Rice's 2010 Season Set to Music

How about something by the Manhattan Transfer?  Get it?  I've always been partial to "Boy From New York City," but since there's no New Yorker on the Rice roster, how about we just go with "Birdland" then?  Because an owl is ... a bird.

Here's where I would just like to mention how proud I was of my North Texas' song selection.  That one was great.  This one, not so much.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

The 70-spot difference between Rice's Rushing S&P+ ranking and their Passing S&P+ ranking was quite stark.  Using standard averages like rushing/passing yards per game, you can see pretty large differences in rankings simply because ... well, if teams can really run/pass on you, they don't have to do the opposite.  With a schedule-adjusted, per-play number like S&P+, however, such swaths of space between rushing and passing rankings are rare.  How rare?

Largest Difference Between Def. Rushing S&P+ and Def. Passing S&P+, 2005-10 (Rushing > Passing)
1. 2006 Michigan State (76 spots -- 16th rushing, 92nd passing)
2. 2009 Syracuse (75 spots -- 19th rushing, 94th passing)
3. 2008 Louisiana Tech (73 spots -- 38th rushing, 111th passing)
4. 2008 Duke (71 spots -- 41st rushing, 112th passing)
5. 2010 Rice (70 spots -- 46th rushing, 116th passing)
6. 2007 Boston College (69 spots -- fourth rushing, 73rd passing)
6. 2006 Hawaii (69 spots -- 30th rushing, 99th passing)
6. 2005 Texas A&M (69 spots -- 40th rushing, 109th passing)
9. 2008 Rutgers (68 spots -- 26th rushing, 94th passing)
10. 2008 South Florida (64 spots -- 10th rushing, 74th passing)

The good news for Rice?  Six of the nine other teams on this list improved their overall S&P+ rankings the next year; in all, the average change in overall Def. S&P+ rankings for these nine teams was a 10.4-spot rise.  Such a rise would at least get Rice out of the bottom quartile ... which, with their offensive potential, could win them at least a couple more games in 2011 (then again, have you seen their schedule?).  Meanwhile...

Largest Difference Between Def. Rushing S&P+ and Def. Passing S&P+, 2005-10 (Passing > Rushing)
1. 2006 Oregon (75 spots -- 95th rushing, 21st passing)
2. 2008 San Jose State (73 spots -- 80th rushing, seventh passing)
3. 2007 UNLV (67 spots -- 109th rushing, 42nd passing)
4. 2009 San Jose State (67 spots -- 106th rushing, 39th passing)
5. 2005 Toledo (66 spots -- 101st rushing, 35th passing)
6. 2005 San Diego State (65 spots -- 83rd rushing, 18th passing)
7. 2009 Kansas (64 spots -- 112th rushing, 48th passing)
8. 2007 Fresno State (62 spots -- 93rd rushing, 31st passing)
9. 2007 N.C. State (61 spots -- 86th rushing, 25th passing)
10. 2009 Miami-Ohio (60 spots -- 111th rushing, 51st passing)

...eight of the ten teams on this list regressed the next years; six regressed by at least 27 spots in the rankings!  The average change for these ten teams: a 21.7-spot drop.  Looks to me like we need to be looking at this as a projection factor, eh?

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 104
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 98
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -7 / -5.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (7, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +1.4

The 2008 season bought David Bailiff a lovely contract extension, but at some point he will certainly have to start producing something again.  With solid returnees and a little more luck, Rice should see decent improvement, especially if the defense ascends back toward the mean as the Stat Nerd Tidbit suggests.  At the very least, even if Rice is still a bad team, their offensive potential should make them a rather enjoyable bad team. I fear that their lack of any sort of stretch-the-field threat, however, will handcuff the new offensive coordinator.

It's pretty easy to tell that this is a team that will likely be projected in the No. 90-110 range when our projections come out; as we will soon see, UTEP made a bowl game with that level of quality last year, but with Rice's 2011 schedule (at Texas, at Baylor, at Southern Miss, at Houston, at Northwestern, at SMU), bowl eligibility is not bloody likely.




* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

***** Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.