Rice Owls (0-0) at WKU Hilltoppers (0-0)
|Date & Time||Thursday September 1, 2016, 8:00 PM (EDT)|
The Line: WKU Hilltoppers -16.5 -- Over/Under: 63
CBS Sports Network
The Rice Owls will travel to L.T. Smith Stadium to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Thursday night in College Football action.
The Rice Owls couldn’t follow-up on a solid 8-5 season from 2014, as the Owls finished the 2015 year with a 5-7 overall while going 3-5 in Conference USA play. Rice was decent on the offensive side of the ball last season as the Owls averaged 26.1 ppg on 177.6 rushing yds/game and 224.3 passing yds/game however, struggled defensively as Rice allowed an average of 35.8 ppg (ranked t-108). Head Coach David Bailiff should be able to continue to improve the offensives numbers this season as they return both RB Darik Dillard (11.25 Att/G; 58.17 yds/G; 5 TD), RB Jowan Davis (7.10 Att/G; 29.70 yds/G; 1 TD) and the majority of their offensive line. Senior, Tyler Sterling will be getting the nod at QB for Rice and although he hasn’t been the main guy behind center yet for the Owls, has an outstanding weapon in WR Zach Wright. Wright has explosive play-making ability and had 5 TD’s last season while averaging 3.3 receptions and 46.2 yards per game. Defensively, Rice struggled last season allowing offenses to average 7.1 yards per play, however, there is some signs of optimism for the Owls as they are returning 9 defensive starters. Leading the way for the Owls defensively will be LB Alex Lyons who led the team last year with 77 tackles and DL Derek Brown who had 40 tackles and 4.0 sacks.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers once again had a great season in 2015 as they finished the year with a 12-2 overall record and was a perfect 8-0 in conference play which included a convincing 45-28 victory in the C-USA Championship against Southern Miss. The Hilltoppers earned a trip to the Miami Beach Bowl last season in which they sent off their talented QB, Brandon Doughty, in style with a 45-35 victory over South Florida. The Hilltoppers were one of the best offensive teams in the country last season averaging 44.3 ppg (ranked 3rd) on 372.2 passing yds (ranked 4th) and 154.1 rushing yards (ranked 89th). Head Coach Jeff Brohm has yet to announce who his starting QB will however, whoever he decides to go with will have plenty of weapons to throw too in WR’s Taywan Taylor (6.1 rec/G; 104.8 yds/G; 17 TD) and Nicholas Norris (4.5 rec/G; 69.4 yds/game; 6 TD). The HIlltoppers will also have a dangerous backfiled which will consist of RB’s D’Andre Ferby (12.62 Att/G; 50.00 yds/G; 11 TD) and Anthony Wales (14.09 Att/G; 99.18 yds/G; 9 TD). On the defensive side of the ball, the Hilltoppers will be returning just 4 starters from a defense that allowed opponents to average 25.9 ppg on 405.2 total yards (165.6 rushing/game; 239.6 passing/game). The Hilltoppers were able to acquire DE Keith Brown and LB Nick Dawson who transferred to WKU from Louisville and returns their leading tackler in TJ McCollum who had 106 tackles last season.
The Owls are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games in September however, just 1-4 ATS in their last 5 conference games. The Hilltoppers are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 home games and 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 conference games.
Western Kentucky will once again one of the top teams in C-USA this season and although they might have a new QB under center this season, they still have some of the best offensive weapons in the conference that should be able to put up points against an unproven Rice defense. Rice has the potential this season to be able to put up some points on the board, however, I think QB Tyler Sterling could struggle on the road in this one and Western Kentucky and Anthony Wales will pull away in this one to cover this spread. Take Western Kentucky to cover.