Bowl Game Preview: New Orleans Bowl Bettors Picking Rice -4
73% of Bets Placed on Rice -4 | Matchup | CFB Picks
In less than a year after being hired to turn around Rice's struggling football program, coach Todd Graham led the Owls to just their fourth winning season since 1993 and helped get their stadium upgraded. Now, he's taking his team to its first bowl in 45 years.
Graham and Rice (7-5) try for the program's first postseason win since 1954 when the Owls take on Troy in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22.
Rice opened the season with four straight losses, but went on to win its final six games and earn its first bowl berth since 1961, when the Owls lost to Kansas in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
The turnaround was one of college football's most impressive of the season after Rice finished 1-10 last year.
``I've won a lot of football games at a lot of places, but there's something special going on at Rice right now,'' Graham said after the Owls defeated SMU 31-27 in their season finale to secure the bowl berth. ``Forty-five years is way too long - we've just begun.''
Graham, previously the defensive coordinator at Tulsa, was hired by Rice on Jan. 1 and immediately began changing everything from the helmets to the offensive plans. He ordered new uniforms and helped raise $5 million to outfit Rice Stadium with a new field and scoreboard.
``Right now we're playing our best football,'' Graham said. ``This is a team that persevered and suffered through a brutal first half of the year. But that built character and character built hope.''
Graham's offensive scheme is much more complex than what Rice was used to, but his team has embraced it. The Owls ranked third in the conference with 27.8 points per game and averaged 345.2 yards of offense, up from the last season's total of 21.9 points and 337.5 yards.
The Rice offense is keyed by quarterback Chase Clement and receiver Jarett Dillard. Clement threw 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions in eight games, averaging 213.4 passing yards per contest.
Dillard had a lot to do with Clement's strong season, catching 82 balls for 1,176 yards and 20 touchdowns. The receiver has a TD in 14 consecutive games.
Dillard, though, had one of his best games of the season in the Nov. 25 victory over SMU with Clement sidelined with a shoulder injury. Backup Joel Armstrong, who played in 12 games this year and threw for 643 yards and six TD with four interceptions, connected with the sophomore six times for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
The Owls haven't won a bowl game since defeating Alabama 28-6 in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. Rice is 4-3 in bowls.
Troy's bowl history is even less storied than Rice's. The Trojans (7-5) are playing in just their second postseason game since moving to Division I in 2002. They lost 34-21 to Northern Illinois in the 2004 Silicon Valley Football Classic.
Troy won six of its last seven games to finish the season with its first Sun Belt Conference crown.
The Trojans offense is centered on running back Kenny Cattouse and quarterback Omar Haugabook. Cattouse rushed for 774 yards and four touchdowns on 156 carries, and averaged 99.2 yards in the final six games after averaging 35.8 yards in the first five.
All four of Cattouse's touchdowns came during the second half of the season.
Haugabook led the conference in completions (227), completion percentage (62.2), yards passing (2,184) and touchdowns (17). The junior, though, also had a conference-leading 16 interceptions.
This is the first bowl game that will be played in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Last year, the New Orleans Bowl was played in Lafayette, La.
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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