On offense, both team's units have something to prove. For SMU the mission is to provide Pony Quarterbacks ample time to throw in its new Run-and-Shoot offense. The Ponies were more of a running team last year with threats like Justin Willis and DeMyron Martin in the backfield.
For Rice, their off-season goal has been to improve an anemic ground game. They finished 103rd in the country last year and want a little more strategic balance in their Spread attack. Based on observations from Spring and more recent August practices – the Owls have a real chance to be more effective in 2008.
Here's a comparison of the starting blockers from each team.
Comparing the Starters
Rice – LT Scott Mitchell, 6-5 290 Soph, 1 Letter; LG Jimmy Miller, 6-3 320 Sr, 3 Letters; Center Austin Wilkinson, 6-2 280 Sr, 3 Letters; RG David Berken, 6-4 295 Sr, 3 Letters; RT Tyler Parish, 6-4 295 RS Fr.
SMU – LT Tommy Poynter, 6-4 275 Sr, 2 Letters; LG Sean Lobo, 6-3 295 Sr, 2 Letters; Center Mitch Enright, 6-2 275 Jr, 2 Letters; RG Bryce Tennison, 6-3 298 RS Fr, RT Vincent Chase, 6-5 265 Sr, 3 Letters.
Rice returns Sophomore Scott Mitchell as perhaps its best Offensive Lineman. After playing last year at only 248 pounds Mitchell has regained, and added weight he lost from a viral infection in August 2007. He's a player that's quick and agile, with a growing mean streak. He poised to have a breakout season after starting the final 5 games of last year as a true Freshman. The Owls will rely on 3 Seniors in the middle of their O-line, led by David Berken who has started 35 of his last 36 games. He graded out as the Owl's top Offensive Lineman for the 2007 season. Tyler Parish won a heated 3-man battle to start at Right Tackle.
Mitch Enright and Sean Lobo are the Mustangs two best linemen. Enright is on the Rimington Award Watchlist, which goes to the nation's best Center. Lobo has started the Mustangs' last 17 games. Bryce Tennison was a highly regarded recruit out of Austin McNeil.
Both units have had to get better at something they weren't used to doing well. We'll call this one even until we see what happens Friday night.
Comparing the Depth
Rice has a slight advantage in that they have 2 Juniors on the second rotation, and 3 redshirt Freshmen – as opposed to SMU's having all Freshmen on its 2nd team.
Now we turn our focus to the defense.
Much like the Offensive lines, both teams also are looking for improved play from their Defensive units in 2008. Both teams utilize a 4 man front in their base defense. Rice graduated two starting interior linemen that will have to be replaced. The Owls lack a truly dominant interior lineman but have players that can fill the positions adequately, and some that could be dominant in the future. Among them, several freshmen will have an opportunity to provide depth and possibly even challenge for starting positions. On the other hand the Owls have assembled a very talented group of Defensive Ends.
Though they finished as one of the worst defensive teams in the country statistically, SMU does have a couple of talented players on its rotation as well. Inside they have a transfer from Minnesota that can be destructive. At DE they have two very athletic players that can rush the passer.
Comparing the Starters
Solomon was a Freshman All American and is one of the strongest, most explosive players on the team. Noseguard Chris Ptaszek is a huge body with brute strength. Chance Talbert was a member of the Owl basketball team and has also played TE for the Owls. Cheta Ozougwu runs a 4.5 forty. While Sowe and Elizee are talented players, Dizer is coming off a back injury. I give the Owls the edge by a slight margin.
Comparing the Depth
Again I give Rice a slight edge, more than anything because of the experience factor. Looking ahead Taylor Thompson has the tools to be a very good player for the Ponies and Yenga started some last year. However, Rice counters with a very talented Freshman of its own Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, a 20 year old Canadian who has a very quick burst off the edge. Furthermore, the other 3 from the Rice 2nd group have all been starters while at Rice.
There you have our comparison of the big boys up front from both teams. Tomorrow we finish up with Linebackers, Defensive Backs and Special Teams.