In 2009, the Owls were one of the youngest teams in college football, concluding the season with 14 starters who were either freshmen or sophomores, while 27 of the 44 players listed on the final two-deep were redshirt sophomores or younger.
That figure showed up in the Owls' final record, as Rice finished 2-10, including a 2-6 record in Conference USA. The record served as a major drop off from a stellar 2008 season that saw Rice finish 10-3 and 7-1, including a victory in the Texas Bowl.
The 2008 Texas Bowl also represents the last time the Owls played in Houston's Reliant Stadium, site of Rice's season opener against Texas.
Some changes have made the Owls difficult to prepare for. While Rice has traditionally been a spread team, head coach David Bailiff brought in two new minds to the offensive think tank: offensive coordinator David Beaty and run game coordinator John Reagan. Both came to Rice via Kansas following the Jayhawks' coaching change.
That means the offense will likely be some blend of the two systems, with Kansas often employing a number of formations to spread teams out and get players in space.
But for the offense to work, the Owls must find a quarterback. Junior Nick Fanuzzi is the leading returning passer. He threw for 1,598 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. But Bailiff declined to name a starter for the Texas game, leaving the competition open between Fanuzzi, massive Miami transfer Taylor Cook (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) and freshman Taylor McHargue.
Whoever wins the job will have a trio of talented backs to take some of the load off. Tyler Smith (5-8 195) is listed as the starter after finishing the year with a pair of 100+ yard games against Houston and UTEP. And sophomore Charles Ross is the team's leading returning rusher, after putting up nearly 500 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago.
But most of the buzz is about former blue chip recruit and Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie (6-0 200). McGuffie is listed second on the depth chart to Smith, and has the speed and elusiveness to be a big-play threat in Rice's spread offense.
Patrick Randolph headlines the receivers after catching 39 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns last year. He's the starter at the Z position. Pierre Beasley caught 15 passes a year ago, while Corbin Smiter earned a medical redshirt in 2009. Both will provide big targets for whoever wins out at quarterback. Vance McDonald (6-5 260) has some pro potential at tight end.
The offensive line's experience has to be considered a strength. The Owls return every player who made a start there a year ago, bringing back a total of 90 starts. The best of the bunch is left tackle Scott Mitchell (6-4 290), a preseason All-CUSA selection.
Defensively, the Owls took a blow when All-Conference lineman Scott Solomon suffered a season-ending foot injury. A senior defensive tackle with 33 career starts, Solomon provided rare playmaking ability from the interior, racking up 30.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.
With Solomon out, leadership falls to senior end Cheta Ozougwu (6-2 255), who had career highs in tackles (61), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (4.5) last year.
Justin Hill and sophomore Trey Briggs make for a good, and assignment-sound, linebacking corps. Briggs played extensively as a true freshman, making 25 tackles a year ago. Hill is Rice's most experienced linebacker.
Free safety Travis Bradshaw (6-1 210) reminds Coach Brown of former Baylor standout Jordan Lake. And for good reason: Bradshaw led the nation in solo tackles as a sophomore, as he rang up 121 total stops.
QB: Nick Fanuzzi, 6-4 220, junior; or Taylor Cook, 6-7 240, sophomore; or Taylor McHargue, 6-1 205, freshman
RB: Tyler Smith, 5-8 195, junior
WR-A: Pierre Beasley, 6-3 220, senior
WR-X: Corbin Smiter, 6-2 210, senior
WR-Z: Patrick Randolph, 5-11 170, senior
TE: Vance McDonald, 6-5 260, sophomore
LT: Scott Mitchell, 6-4 295, senior
LG: Jake Hicks, 6-4 280, junior
C: Keshawn Carrington, 6-3 275, junior
RG: Eric Ball, 6-4 280, sophomore
RT: Tyler Parish, 6-4 290, junior
RDE: Cheta Ozougwu, 6-2 255, senior
DT: Michael Smith, 6-1 280, junior
NT: John Gioffre, 6-0 280, junior
LDE: Kramer Lucio, 6-4 250, senior
MIKE: Justin Hill, 5-11 225, senior
WLB: Trey Briggs, 6-1 230, sophomore
SS: Chris Jones, 6-1 210, senior
KAT: Corey Frazier, 6-1 195, sophomore
FCB: Chris Jammer, 6-1 190, junior
BCB: Philip Gaines, 6-1 185, sophomore
FS: Travis Bradshaw, 6-1 210, junior
SPECIAL TEAMS STARTERS
PK: Chris Boswell, 6-2 200, freshman
P: Kyle Martens, 6-6 210, junior
KR: Shane Turner, 5-9 180, sophomore
PR: Andy Erickson, 5-10 170, freshman
DS: Brandon Long, 6-0 225, senior
H: Brent Hotard, 6-1 230, junior