In less than three weeks, the Fighting Irish will commence the 2014-2015 season by playing the Rice Owls. Many consider Notre Dame one of the better teams in the nation, and predictions across the board have the Irish finishing in at least the top 25. Some of Notre Dame’s toughest opponents this season consist of Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, national champions Florida State, Arizona State, and USC. But have the experts overlooked Rice as a possible threat to the Irish’s national championship aspirations?
Who are the Rice Owls?
Last season, Rice finished their season 10-4 with a solid 5-1 record in the Conference USA, which was enough to win the conference title. Historically, the Owls haven’t been one of the better teams in college football winning only 44% of their games dating back to its first season in 1912. But recent success puts some of that in the past.
This season, the Owls are going to emphasize their run game as a strength after finishing 17th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Reports say that the Owls’ new starting quarterback Driphus Jackson is the ideal fit for the kind of up-tempo offense Rice wants to run. His dual threat ability makes him a lethal weapon in Rice’s already strong rushing attack.
The bulk of the successful running game falls on the shoulders of redshirt senior running back Charles Ross who led Conference USA in rushing yards with 1280 yards and 15 touchdowns.
So what does that mean for the Irish in preparation for their game against Rice?
Stopping the run is going to obviously be the number one priority for the Fighting Irish. If the defensive line, led by Sheldon Day, who is on the Outland Trophy watchlist, and linebackers can find a way to contain Ross and Jackson, then the Irish should be in good shape. The Owls ranked 106th in the nation last season in passing yards per game, and with a new quarterback running the offense, forcing the Owls to pass has to be the gameplan defensively.
Offensively for the Irish, they’ll have to push their passing game on an Owls’ defense that lost their leader in the secondary in Philip Gaines, who led Rice in interceptions with four. With Davaris Daniels and Corey Robinson outside the numbers, the Irish quarterbacks should have no problem airing it out on Rice’s young secondary.
Regardless of how good Notre Dame looks on paper, fans should never write off an opponent as an easy win. Every game is going to be just as crucial as the next in the Irish’s quest for national championship glory. It starts with the Rice Owls on August 30th.