Coach David Baliff finished 2008 with a 10-3 record and a Texas Bowl victory over Western Michigan. This was a significant improvement from Baliff’s first season where the Owls went a dismal 3-9. Although the future looks bright for the program, they enter 2009 with some key losses on both sides of the ball.
John Thomas Shepherd looks to have the edge at the starting quarterback position this year, as Chase Clement has graduated. Shepherd is a senior and although he does not have a lot of playing experience, he has been around the system and has watched and learned from Clement over the years. Another option at quarterback might be the transfer from Alabama, Nick Fanuzzi. He is a sophomore and brings athleticism to the position. He can run and throw the ball and depending on Shepherd’s success, Fanuzzi might take over at the position.
With C.J. Ugokwe gone, the running game should be split between Jeramy Goodson and Tyler Smith. Goodson returns as the leading rusher from a season ago, but Smith is younger and has more upside. Smith is only a sophomore who did not play last season due to a major knee injury.
Fortunately, even with the loss of Jarett Dillard the Owls are still deep at receiver. Toren Dixon should be the main target for whoever is at quarterback. He caught 50 passes last year for 598 yards and five touchdowns. Also, look for Corbin Smith to step up and make some big plays for the Owls.
Despite returning eight starters the defense needs to make adjustments in 2009. They ranked 111th in the nation in total defense last year, giving up 450 yards per game. With the offense that will not put up the numbers it did like last year the defense needs to play better and help out the young and inexperienced offense.
Rice has a very experienced line where Scott Solomon wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. He recorded 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season. Cheta Ozougwu is a nice compliment to Solomon at end who added 3.5 sacks last season and 40 tackles. Terrance Garmon is coming off one of his better season and will lead the group of linebackers. He totaled 66 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2008 and brings with him solid experience.
Look for the secondary to make significant improvements from ranking 11th in the conference in pass defense. They have a bunch of returning players including safety Andrew Sendejo. He led the team with 94 tackles last year and added three interceptions. The defense should improve, but the offense has some rebuilding to do, so do not expect another ten win season from the Owls.