Rice's strengths, weaknesses and players to watch
Jeff Sagarin rating: 116
KU's Sagarin rating: 88
Sagarin line: KU favored by 9
Rice had some success both running and throwing the football against UCLA last week, led by quarterback Taylor McHargue, who threw for 172 yards and rushed for 95 more with three combined touchdowns.
McHargue is the key offensively, as not only will he run when passing plays break down, but he also will keep it himself for designed read-option plays.
Defensively, Rice's secondary is considered its strength in its 4-2-5 setup. Sophomore cornerback Bryce Callahan was a Sporting News freshman All-America selection last year after leading all FBS freshmen with six interceptions, while Corey Frazier — son of Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier — also starts at free safety as one of only eight seniors on the roster.
If the game is close, Rice has one of the best kickers in the nation in junior Chris Boswell. He had three field goals of 50 yards or more last season — tying him for the lead nationally — and also booted a 53-yarder against UCLA last week.
Rice's defense has been killed by big plays.
That was the Owls' biggest weakness a year ago, and it showed up again last week. UCLA had three 70-plus-yard runs against Rice. To put that in perspective, no other team in the NCAA gave up more than one last week, and there were only 12 70-plus-yard runs total, meaning the Owls have surrendered 25 percent of the nation's 70-yard runs this year.
Offensively, Rice's inexperienced offensive line struggled to keep McHargue upright. The unit, which returned just 15 combined starts among the five offensive linemen coming into the season, allowed six sacks on 30 total passing attempts against UCLA.
Rice's offense also hasn't shown the ability to be explosive in recent years. In 2011, Rice ranked 89th in 20-plus-yard plays, while last week, the Owls had just one play go for more than 30 yards (a 40-yard run by McHargue).
Rice's special teams have been historically poor at coming up with touchdowns. The Owls have not scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since Nov. 17, 1984, and they also haven't scored a TD on a punt return since Nov. 8, 1997. Both are the longest return streaks without a touchdown in Div. I.
Players to Watch
Senior receiver Sam McGuffie (No. 2) started his career at Michigan and at one time was being recruited by current KU coach Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Though he's only 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, McGuffie's been described by Weis as an athletic player, and he also will be involved in special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
Senior tight end Luke Willson (No. 82) had a relatively quiet first game with two catches for 18 yards and a touchdown, but his offseason alone should be reason for KU to pay attention to him. Not only was the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder named to four preseason watch lists in the summer, he also was signed as an undrafted free agent for the Toronto Blue Jays before participating in a month's-worth of extended Spring Training drills. While he was with the Blue Jays, he also was selected with the 32nd pick in the Canadian Football League Draft.
Junior linebacker Cameron Nwosu (No. 57) was Rice's leading tackler a year ago and also tied for the team lead with nine tackles against UCLA last week. If his name sounds familiar, it's probably because of his special-teams accomplishment a week ago, as he blocked an NCAA-record three extra-point attempts. Weis has said he believed those kicks might have been a bit low, but KU still will need to account for Nwosu in the middle of its line during kicks.
Senior defensive end Jared Williams (No. 97) was singled out by Weis on Tuesday as "clearly the leader of their defensive line. (Kansas offensive lineman) Tanner (Hawkinson) will have his hands full, because that's where the guy lines up most of the time." The 6-5, 250-pound Williams had a sack and five tackles to go along with a fumble recovery against UCLA last week.
Rice has shown the ability to be competitive ... when it can avoid big plays by the opponent.
Advanced stats suggest that Rice's pass defense in 2011 was much better than the numbers looked, but once again, big gains by opponents skewed the final statistics.
This looks to be a game that could be decided on the lines, and KU should have an advantage up front on both sides. Will the Jayhawks be able to run the ball effectively as others have done in the past against Rice's 4-2-5 setup (UCLA had 37 carrries for 343 yards last week)? Also, will KU be able to get a couple big plays?
If so, the Jayhawks should be able to pull away at home to win this one by a couple possessions.
Prediction: Kansas 34, Rice 21
Hawk to Rock: This week it has to be sophomore running back Tony Pierson, who is clearly KU's home-run threat in the running game. Rice's defenders will need to be especially careful when he's in the game, as they won't be able to catch him from behind if he gets in the open field. I'll go with one long run (40-plus yards) and 140 yards total from Pierson.