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Wise Owl: Talking Rice Football with the Houston Chronicle's Jeffrey Martin

Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle was nice enough to answer some key questions about the 2010 Rice Owls.  For the best Rice news, on all sports, check out the Rice Notebook; Jeffrey's blog on Rice athletics.

(Note:  the Full Rice Preview is HERE).

Miner Rush:  I was surprised when I found out that Sam McGuffie transferred to Rice after beginning his career at Michigan.  What have your impressions been of Sam?  What can the league expect to see from him in the coming years?  How will his presence effect the development of Charles Ross who had a strong freshman campaign?

Jeffrey Martin:  Sam is Sam. He’s a different cat. I think he’s a little tired of some of the generalizations and perceptions that followed him out of high school, but I think he’s more focused and perhaps a little more humble now. He’s always been driven, and I know he’s viewing this as his prime opportunity to do well for himself and his family. He’s a difference-maker, and for a team that didn’t have many – if any – last year, he’s a welcome addition. David Bailiff jokingly referred to him as a "one-man stimulus package." That’s an apt description – he’s very, very talented. And he will have a significant impact against Conference USA competition. How if affects Ross will be interesting to watch, but I don’t anticipate McGuffie being a 25-carry type of back. I imagine he’ll carry 10-15 times, but they’ll throw to him in the slot 5-10 times and try to use him in as many creative ways as possible. The Owls might be deepest at running back, to be honest.

MR:  From what I've read, Coach Bailiff has not announced a starting quarterback for next season.   You wrote on April 25 that Taylor McHargue  has been "drawing second looks."  With Nick Fanuzzi coming back and Taylor Cook now eligible after transferring from Miami, how do you see the depth chart shaping up?

JM:  This is strictly my opinion, but you’d have to think the coaching staff saw enough in 2009 to make it realize if Fanuzzi is the guy or not. Because the Taylors were the focus in the spring, I believe the starter will emerge from those two, and don’t be surprised if both are used. McHargue is intriguing because he’s comparable to former Rice star Chase Clement, who is currently serving as quality control with the Owls. But Cook has the big arm, and you have to think he didn’t come to Rice to sit, right?

MR:  Rice has made a commitment to scheduling touch non-conference games.  Obviously, the Owls open up against a likely top 10 team in the Texas Longhorns.  After a road trip to UNT, the Owls come home to play a strong Northwestern squad.  Do you like these match-ups?  Does the benefit, money and exposure, outweigh the potential costs?

JM:  The commitment is strictly from a monetary standpoint, and the prior administration was taking steps to go away from this philosophy. With new athletic director in Rick Greenspan in place, though, that could change. What happened last year during a season with a high-water mark of no more than six wins was the Owls were battered during September and never regained their health against teams they might have had a chance to defeat. It’s not a good strategy, although it’s best tested through time.

MR:  David Beatty's rise from high school heavyweight to offensive coordinator at Rice in a matter of years has been astonishing.  What do you think about his quick ascent?  How will his offensive scheme be different from what we've seen the Owls do the last few years?

JM:  He’s an impressive guy. Fiery, communicative, and young – don’t underestimate the value of youth in a coach. The pace will be quicker, and I think the Owls will rely more on the run than Bailiff would like. I’m convinced Beaty is intent on using the assets at his disposal to the fullest, and as I wrote before, the deepest offensive position might be running back.

MR:  Scott Solomon, Rice's star NT, is probably the Owl's best known defensive player.  Who is the best player the league isn't familiar with?  Any newcomers we should know about, or did a player emerge in the spring that is primed for a breakout season?

JM:  I’ll go with sophomore tight end Vance McDonald. He’s going to be a beast in Beaty’s offense. Blessed with pro-type size (6-5, 230), McDonald was named to the C-USA All-Freshman after catching 12 passes – doing so in an offense that didn’t feature the tight end as much as the current scheme will. He has great hands, and he even has a former Pro Bowl tight end in David Sloan helping him out as a graduate assistant.

MR:  In 2008, the Owls won the Texas Bowl but obviously took a step back in '09.  What will constitute a "successful" season for Rice in your eyes?  What are reasonable expectations for this squad?

JM:  I think a .500 season is the expectation and that would qualify as a success, no doubt. The schedule might not set up well, but break it down like this – if the Owls can win three of their four C-USA home games (SMU, East Carolina and UAB are more likely than Houston, which will probably be a Top 20 team), beat North Texas, and then steal a couple on the road at UTEP, UCF, Tulsa or Tulane? Six wins is possible.