1. How did spring practice go for the Owls under first-year head coach Mike Bloomgren?
Its been sort of a mixed bag for Mike Bloomgren due to no fault of his own. The Owls had to deal with the tragedy of losing defensive end Blain Padgett who was found dead in his apartment. His cause of death is still unknown. On top of mustering the mental fortitude to keep his players focused on football, Bloomgren had to endure roster attrition as several starters decided to transfer this spring. Tackle Calvin Anderson transferred to Texas, defensive lineman Preston Gordon is now at Texas Tech and safety JT Ibe left for South Carolina. This isn’t a loaded roster, so losing those guys hurt.
2. Bloomgren comes from Stanford — is there an expectation that he will try to install a similar power/pro-style type of offense?
Absolutely. You could make the case that his experience at Stanford combined with his offensive philosophy is the main reason why he got this job. With Conference USA teams employing some sort of spread offense with a variation of teams favoring a pass-first or run-first philosophy, Rice will be the only team in the conference who will run a pro-style offense. The Owls will zig while the rest of the conference zags. Considering how successful it worked for Stanford, why not Rice?
3. Any returning players that could be set up for success in the new attack?
Rice returns four running backs who had at least 50 carries last season in Nahshon Ellerbe, Austin Walter, Samuel Stewart and Emmanuel Esukpa. Esukpa had the best spring, as he finished the spring game with 165 yards and two total touchdowns. He appears to be the lead candidate for a breakout season. Quarterback Jackson Tyner could also fit this bill. The former three-star athlete was a bad fit in David Bailiff’s spread offense and ended up losing reps to sophomore Miklo Smalls but exits spring practice as QB1.
4. How significant do you see the rebuild as being?
I see this rebuild taking three years at least. This may come as a surprise, but the talent level in C-USA is really rising. Frank Wilson at UTSA recruits well, Seth Littrell at North Texas is coming off their first 9-win season since 2013, the Blazers are going to remain a tough out as long as Bill Clark is in Birmingham, Southern Miss will remain steady with Jay Hopson at the helm and Louisiana Tech has become one of the more consistent G5 programs under the leadership of Skip Holtz. This is just C-USA West. We’re not even looking at the resurgence of the South Florida twins thanks to the arrival of Lane Kiffin (FAU signed the best recruiting class in C-USA in 2017) & Butch Davis (FIU signed best class in C-USA in 2018) in the opposite division. The only program they compete with yearly who is down at the moment is UTEP and the Miners will have a new head coach this year too in Dana Dimel.
As long as Rice is patient, I could see Bloomgren working out. We all know there’s plenty of talent in Texas and the ability to sell Houston while offering the prestigious Rice degree will be enticing for recruits. Rice just recently unveiled a new football facility too. But this is not a fast rebuild by any means. With UTSA and North Texas trending up along with the rest of the conference, this Rice job is only going to become more difficult.