Half-Way Point: 2008 Story Not Finished

The Owls are currently 3-3 in the 2008 football season, with all 3 losses coming to teams that are a combined 17-1. With 6 games left on the schedule the Owls are still in position to make the season a success…

With last weekend off, the Rice Owls have had plenty of time to reflect on how they lost 3 games, but also plenty of time to think about winning games over the rest of the 2008 season. Wanting his team to start the back half of the season right, Coach David Bailiff has reminded the team that the 2006 Rice Owls started their season 1-6, before winning 5 straight games to earn a bowl birth for the first time since 1961. The Owls weren't exactly in charge of their own destiny then, but it's fair to say this year's 2008 team is. One thing is true about any season though, winning is what matters most. Do that and everything else takes care of itself.

By winning at least 3 out of their final 6 games in 2008 the Owls can become bowl eligible. Sounds fairly easy considering the Owls don't have any team left on the schedule that has a record above .500 right now. Of course nobody is talking about anything right now but the next game. The Owls know that thinking anything beyond that can get them in trouble quick – they know the second half of the 2008 season has 6 very winnable games, they also know almost every team left on the schedule is playing better as each week passes. The scary thing about the remaining schedule for the Owls is that every one of the teams left on the schedule could also become bowl eligible themselves with a solid finish to their seasons.

We take a look at what lays ahead for the Owls if they are to make this season highly successful, starting with this weekend's game against Southern Miss.

Rice vs. Southern Miss – October 18, Rice Stadium

Under first year Head Coach Larry Fedora the Golden Eagles are 2-4 in 2008. Fedora was the former Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State and early on it looked like USM would have the same potent Offense seen in Stillwater under their new coach. But after scoring 51 points in their season opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Golden Eagles have won only one game since, that one a close 27-24 victory at Arkansas State. Fedora has recruited extremely well, signing a great class last February. He's also assembled a nice group for the 2009 class. So, as has always been the case, USM will have the athletes to compete for the C-USA Championships in the future. It just may not be this year.

Player To Watch: Damion Fletcher, RB

Fletcher rushed for 260 yards against UTEP. He will have to be contained if the Owls hope to win Saturday.

Points of Interest…

Southern Miss' has lost their last 3 games, all at home. Larry Fedora is originally from College Station, TX and attended Austin College in Sherman. His younger brother Lee Fedora is the Head Football Coach and Athletics Director at Navasota (TX) High School – just 45 minutes from Houston.

Rice vs. Tulane – October 25, New Orleans Superdome

Tulane always seems to play Rice tough, especially in New Orleans. Tulane is also 2-4 on the season and has lost their last 2 games. Their most impressive game of the year thus far has been a 20-6 loss to current #2 nationally ranked Alabama. They also played East Carolina close, who at the time was just coming off an impressive upset of West Virginia. Since then the Green Wave beat SMU by a touchdown, but were blown out by the Option Offense of Army. They lost a 4th quarter lead to an improved UTEP team Saturday, to get beat 24-21 by the Miners.

Player To Watch: Andre Anderson, RB

Like Damion Fletcher from USM, Anderson had a season high rushing game against the Miners, piling up 255 yards. Tulane's big play threat Jeremy Williams is out with a broken hand so a lot of the play calling has focused around Anderson. Again the Owls will have to defend the run successfully against the Green Wave in order to win in New Orleans – two things they've struggled to do in recent years.

Points of Interest…

Tulane Head Coach Bob Toledo's son-in-law played football at Texas A&M. He met Toledo's daughter while they were both students in College Station when Toledo was the Offensive Coordinator at A&M. After leading the nation in sacks through the first four games, Tulane has sacked to the quarterback only once in its last two contests.

Rice vs. UTEP – November 1, El Paso Sun Bowl

After starting off the season in very unimpressive fashion, going 0-3 with losses to Buffalo and New Mexico State; the Miners have roared backed to .500 by winning their last 3 games. The Miners blew out Central Florida 58-13 to start that string of wins, then won their last two with 4th quarter heroics. Most importantly they've won when they needed to - the Miners are 3-0 in C-USA play.

Player To Watch: Trevor Vittatoe, QB

The sophomore from Euless Trinity completed 21 of 32 passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers in a come from behind win against Tulane. His 68-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Moturi with 4:22 remaining was the game-winner.

Points of Interest…

One player that plagued the Owls when the two teams played last year was Fred Rouse. The one time #1 Wide Receiver recruit in the country originally signed with Florida State out of Tallahassee Lincoln before transferring to El Paso. The troubled star lasted only one season with the Miners – he was dismissed from the team this spring. What a waste of talent.

Rice vs. Army – November 8, Rice Stadium

The Black Knights bring an Offense very familiar to Rice fans when they come to town in November. Army runs the Option, just as Rice did under Ken Hatfield for over a decade. Army started off horribly under first year coach Stan Brock, who replaced Bobby Ross in January as the Black Knights new Head Coach. The Cadets dropped 4 straight to start the season including losses to Temple, New Hampshire and Akron. But just as the Owl Offenses under Hatfield did, Army's Option attack began to mesh after a few weeks into the season. Army almost beat a very mediocre but still far more talented Texas Aggie team, eventually losing 21-17. Army has won their last two, including a 44-13 blowout of Tulane in the Superdome. Don't be surprised if they don't even attempt a pass against Rice.

Player to Watch: Collin Mooney, FB

Mooney (no relation to yours truly) is the quintessential Option Fullback – he's built like a tank and runs with power and quickness. He ran for 229 yards against Eastern Michigan last Saturday in a 17-13 Army win. That rushing total was the 4th highest single game rushing total in the rich history of Black Knight Football. Think 40's and ‘50's. Every good Option team has a good Fullback – Army has found theirs in Mooney.

Points of Interest…

One Black Knight Assistant Coach will be right at home at Rice Stadium. Secondary Coach Wally Ake was Defensive Coordinator on Ken Hatfield's staff at Rice from 1994 to 1996, leading the Owls to top 25 rankings in four defensive categories in the 1994 season.

Rice vs. Marshall – November 22, Rice Stadium

The Thundering Herd of Marshall are 3-3 at the midway point of 2008. However, they've lost big in their last two games after starting the year 3-1. From a talent standpoint they are plenty skilled enough to beat Rice. They've played a similar schedule to the Owls in regard to the type of teams they've lined up against. Their 3 losses have come at the hands of powerful teams from BCS conferences – Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Cincinnati.

Players To Watch: Darius Marshall, RB - Darius Passmore, WR

Against Marshall watch out for anyone named "Darius". Running Back Darius Marshall ranks among the C-USA leaders in kick returns (29.4-yard average), rushing yards (80.2) and all-purpose yards (160.2) per game. Wide Receiver Darius Passmore has averaged 15.1 yards per catch and 16.1 yards per carry this season with five total touchdowns. Another player to watch is All-C-USA TE Cody Slate, back from a September knee injury.

Points of Interest…

Just about every football program in the country recruits the talent rich State of Texas for players. Marshall just recently got into the act when they signed Klein Defensive Lineman John Youboty. Prior to signing Youboty the Thundering Herd didn't have a single player from Texas on their roster. Youboty's got great bloodlines, brother Ashton played football at Ohio State before going on to the NFL - he's currently a defensive back for the Buffalo Bills.

Rice vs. Houston – November 29, Rice Stadium

Though Houston lost its coach earlier this year when Art Briles fled for the green (and the gold) of a Baylor contract, the rivalry between the two cross town Houston schools remains as strong as ever. First year Head Coach Kevin Sumlin has maintained the Offensive output established by previous regimes. The Cougars have averaged 43 points a game this year in route to a 3-3 record. Houston is still fighting first year inconsistencies though – they had to come back from a 20-3 deficit to beat UAB last weekend.

Player To Watch: Case Keenum, QB

Keenum was the 2007 C-USA Freshman of the Year and has picked up where he left off last year. The Cougars lost Anthony Alridge and Donnie Avery to the NFL but Keenum has given UH enough of a spark without them to find a way to win. Keenum was this week's C-USA Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in the Cougar's come from behind win last weekend.

Points of Interest…

UH freshman WR Isaiah Sweeney is the younger brother of Owl Receiver Ahmad Sweeney. UH senior Deep Snapper Norbie Juist is the younger brother of former Rice Punter/Kicker Luke Juist. All are from Houston.

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