Rice 2024 Roster Autopsy: Owls are Texas's most in-tact team

Photo by David Beach | Rice Athletics

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Rice Owls

2023 Finish: 6–7
Off. PPG: 29.5 (56th in FBS)
Def. PPG: 28.1 (83rd)
Key Losses: QB J.T. Daniels, WR Luke McCaffrey, LT Clay Servin, DT De'Braylon Carroll, CB Tre'Shon Devones
New Faces: 11 signees, 7 transfers
Top Additions: QB E.J. Warner (Temple), Edge Michael Daley (Yale), QB Drew Devillier (Plano East), S LaVonte Johnson (North Shore), LB Kaleb Blanton (Manvel)

Offensive Overview

The telepathic connection between J.T. Daniels and Luke McCaffrey is gone, but Rice has plenty to be excited about among its skill positions - especially in the backfield. Dean Conners, emerged as Rice's bell cow with 771 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry. He's also a security blanket in the passing game, finishing second on the team with 403 receiving yards. Rice may not have a singular receiver that can replace McCaffrey's production, but Conners and tight end Boden Groen (39 catches, 383 yards, 3 touchdowns) can take some of the load.

The offensive line returns four of five starters. While Conners broke a couple long runs to boost his average, Rice as a team finished with 3.71 yards per rush, a figure they'll look to improve upon. Ethan Onianwa has started 23 consecutive games at right tackle while Lavel Dumont didn't allow a sack all season at right guard.

Projected Starters

Position Player Year
QB E.J. Warner Jr.
RB Dean Conners Sr
WR Rawson MacNeill R-Soph.
WR Landon Ransom-Goelz Soph.
WR Kobie Campbell Sr.
TE Boden Groen Sr.
LT Miguel Cedeno R-Soph.
LG Brant Banks Gr.
C Braeden Nutter Sr.
RG Lavel Dumont Gr.
RT Ethan Onianwa R-Jr.

Breakout Candidates

WR Braylen Walker – Watching the Houston game in Week Two last season, Walker looked like a future star. He finished with four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown, then had six catches the rest of the season as he morphed into a gadget guy. He's a dynamic athlete who can carve a bigger role this season in life without Luke McCaffrey.

LT Miguel Cedeno – Cedeno spent the past two seasons studying under Clay Servin, who anchored Rice's offensive line, appearing in 56 games over a six-year career. Cedeno started ast year in a 24-17 win over East Carolina and performed well. He has intriguing size at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds.

RB Daelan Alexander – In six games, the freshman from Pflugerville Weiss toted the rock just 18 times for 1.9 yards a carry. But five of them went for touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 210-pounder is Rice's goal line back. When the Owls get under center and bring two fullbacks in the game, Alexander is going to find his way in the end zone.

Key Unit

Quarterback – Rice's multiple personnel, pro-style offense grants the signal-caller authority to audible at the line of scrimmage, a level of mental processing JT Daniels excelled at because his heart rate never exceeded 45 beats per minute. He provided the steadiest play of any QB in the Bloomgren era, and it'll be a two-man battle to replace him. AJ Padgett won two of his final three regular season starts to get Rice to bowl elgibility, but was benched in the bowl game after tossing three interceptions. Bloomgren brings in EJ Warner, son of Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, after back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons at Temple. This offense will go as far as whoever wins the battle takes it.

Biggest Question Mark

Wide Receiver – Luke McCaffrey compiled 992 receiving yards last season. The next closest wide receiver, Landon Ransom-Goelz, had 380. McCaffrey reeled in 13 touchdown. The rest of Rice's roster had 16 combined. The Owls don't need someone to dominate receptions like McCaffrey did, they just need a clear No.1 wideout, or multiple dependable targets, to emerge. Look for Ransom-Goelz and the 6-foot-5 Rawson MacNeill to get the first cracks at the top spot.

Defensive Overview

The Owls' defense improved upon the 35.2 points per game they surrendered over the 2021 and 2022 seasons combined, holding teams to an average of 28.1 last year. Rice loses just two players from that unit - corner Tre'shon Devones and defensive tackle De'Braylon Carroll - but both were impact performers.

The secondary play, headlined by rising senior safety Gabriel Taylor, allowed Rice to finish second in the American Athletic Conference allowing 211.6 passing yards a contest. Devones led the team with 11 pass breakups but opted to transfer in February. Lamont Narcisse is the early pick to replace him opposite Sean Fresch.

Coleman Coco and Josh Pearcy form a scary duo of edge rushers for Rice's front seven. Coco is a high-energy former Colgate transfer who tied for the team lead with nine tackles for loss in his debut season, while Pearcy has the build of a Greek God.

Projected Starters

Position Player Year
DE Coleman Coco Gr.
NT Izeya Floyd Gr.
DT Blake Boenisch R-Jr.
OLB Josh Pearcy Grad
LB Chris Conti R-Sr.
LB Myron Morrison R-Sr.
NB Plae Wyatt R-Jr.
CB Sean Fresch Sr.
CB Lamont Narcisse R-Jr.
S Gabriel Taylor Sr.
S Jonathan Jean R-Jr.

Breakout Candidates

S Tyson Flowers – Flowers, entering his third season out of Fort Worth Southwest Christian, stood out on film in his first career start against SMU with eight tackles and three pass breakups. He's behind multiple upper classmen in a crowded secondary, but there's little to no drop off when he comes in the game.

LB DJ Arkansas – The former all-state selection at Denton Ryan has rare sideline-to-sideline speed from the linebacker spot and compiled 34 tackles in 2023, his first healthy season after two injury-marred campaigns. Arkansas is on the lighter side at 207 pounds, but he's a thumper when he meets the ball carrier.

DL Demone Green – Green was a steady backup to Coco last season but made the most of his opportunities. Five of his 12 tackles came behind the line of scrimmage. Green's still a younger guy on Rice's veteran-heavy defense, but he's a physical specimen.

Key Unit

Linebacker – Rice's trio of linebackers are the most experienced members of the defense. Chris Conti was leading the team with 53 tackles through eight games before suffering a season-ending injury in practice, while Myron Morrison has started 18-consecutive games. Pearcy is a versatile off-ball linebacker.

Biggest Question Mark

Interior Defensive Line – De'Braylon Carroll was a force on the front seven, tying for the team lead with nine tackles for loss and also notching 3.5 sacks. His transfer to Texas Tech leaves the Owls searching for a player to make a similar jump. Izeya Floyd, a former offensive linemen, was a team captain in 2023 who had a career-high 25 tackles. He should line up next to Blake Boenisch, a 330-pounder who finished with 26 tackles.

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