10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Stanford -30.5, Over/Under: 50.5
Are you tired of Baseball? Are you sick of the insane of buildup to McGregor/Mayweather? Then fear not, folks, for College Football is back to save the day, as the fourteenth-ranked Stanford Cardinal and the Rice Owls meet at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia to officially kick the of the CFB Season a week ahead of schedule. Ironically, these teams met towards the end of the previous campaign, with Stanford thumping Rice to the tune of 41-17 in both team’s Regular Season Finale. David Shaw’s outfit went on to pull out a narrow 25-23 victory over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl, earning a 10-3 record, the fifth time in the esteemed coach’s six years in charge that they reached double-digit victories. Stability and consistency have been the hallmarks of the program since Shaw took over back in 2011, with the Cardinal going 64-17 in that span, including a 4-2 record in Bowls. However, in 2017 those mantras will be tested as they look to replace a number of talented players, including a pair of Top-10 Draft Picks in the form of Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas. McCaffrey, a Heisman Finalist last season, was as dangerous a weapon out of the backfield as there was in College Football, racking up a staggering 2,664 Yards from Scrimmage, and thirteen touchdowns, while also factoring heavily in the Return Game, returning thirty-seven Kickoffs for 1,070 yards and a touchdown, along with fifteen more Punts for 130 yards and another score. Hell, he even threw a pair of touchdowns, to boot. Thomas on the other hand, headlined one of the staunchest defensive units in the country, as Stanford allowed just 22.6 points per game (33rd Overall), with the versatile Defensive End compiling 3.5 Sacks, 10.5 Tackles for Loss, a par of Fumble Recoveries, and a touchdown. On deck to replace McCaffrey is Bryce Love, a dynamic Junior Tailback who impressed when given the opportunity in 2016; proving equally adept rushing and receiving, McCaffrey’s understudy totaled 475 Yards from Scrimmage and three Touchdowns on just forty-four touches, averaging a whopping 10.8 yards per touch. With that said, the major question will be who secures the most important position on the field, Quarterback. With the veteran Kevin Hogan departing after four years in Paolo Alto, Shaw will likely turn to Keller Chryst, who saw plenty of action last year (six starts), before tearing his ACL in the aforementioned Sun Bowl. The Junior completed 56.6% of his passes for 905 yards (6.7 Y/A), with ten touchdowns and two interceptions, but also showed plenty of promise with his legs, rushing for 159 yards and another two scores on forty-one carries. Reports out of Stanford have indicated that he has progressed nicely throughout the duration of his rehab, though it remains to be seen just how confident he is navigating his way through trouble. Of course, He’ll have find memories of facing Rice, for when they met last November, Chryst broke off a stunning 62-yard Touchdown Run.
Meanwhile, 2017 could very well be a make-or-break campaign for Rice, whose trajectory has pointed downward over the past few seasons. Ever since going 10-4 in 2013, David Bailiff’s charges have gotten precipitously worse; in 2014 they dropped to 8-5, despite capping the term with a 30-6 thrashing of Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl, but have since posted dreadful 5-7 and 3-9 seasons, which has left some around that part of Texas calling for Bailiff’s job. Now in his eleventh tour of duty in Houston, Texas, the veteran Head Coach has put together a 56-69 record, but if fails to improve upon the mark set in 2016, his time with the Owls could come to an end. As is the case with their opponent tonight, Rice will be making the transition under Center to a new Quarterback, with Sam Glasemann appearing to have emerged as the favorite; the Redshirt Freshman proved victorious in a three-way battle with the likes of Redshirt Sophomores Jackson Tyner and J.T. Granato, with the latter of the two transferring as a result. Glasemann will be replacing Tyler Stehling (61.4%, 2,049 YDS, 6.5 Y/A, 12 TD, 7 INT), who could also make plays with his legs, rushing for 309 yards a four Touchdowns on 101 carries, and even hauling in a 27-yard Touchdown Reception. With such youth under Center, Bailiff and Co. will likely lean heavily on the Running Game, which the Owls were proficient at in 2016, averaging 169.9 Yards on the ground on a respectable 4.2 Yards per Carry. There are plenty of options to choose from here, with five different players racking up at least 300 Rushing Yards. Junior Tailback Samuel Stewart was chief among them, running for 479 yards and three touchdowns on just seventy-six carries (6.3 Y/A), despite appearing in just seven games. With all that said, the area where this team needs to improve most on the defensive side of the ball, where the Owls were oftentimes outmatched against their competition. Rice allowed a miserable 37.3 Points per Game last year (115th Overall) on an embarrassing 504.8 Total Yards of Offense, with 287.7 Yards versus the Pass and another 217.2 versus the Run. Opposing Quarterbacks completed a healthy 63.3% of their attempts against them, while Tailbacks gashed them repeatedly on 5.5 Yards per Carry and a ridiculous thirty touchdowns. Bailiff’s outfit yielded 600 or more Total Yards on five occasions last year, including 700 Yards twice. And in case you were wondering as to how they fared against Stanford in the Season Finale? The Cardinal grinded away at their beleaguered Defensive Front, churning out 373 Rushing Yards and three Touchdowns on 8.7 Yards per Carry.