The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl might be relatively obscure, but Rice and Troy are both hoping to make school history in the Superdome.
Troy has posted some eyebrow-raising victories since moving into Division I-A in 2001, but is seeking its first triumph in a bowl game.
Meanwhile, Rice improved from 1-10 in 2005 to 7-5 this season. By winning the New Orleans Bowl, first-year coach Todd Graham will have orchestrated the greatest turnaround in school history. That's especially impressive considering the Owls lost their first four games.
Rice hasn't been to a bowl game since 1961 and hasn't won one since 1954.
New Orleans Bowl: Rice vs. Troy
Rice Owls Conference: Conference USA Record: 7-5, 6-2 Coach:Todd Graham (7-5 in one season) Passing leader:Chase Clement (153 of 265 for 1,707 yards, 21 TDs, five INTs) Rushing leader:Quinton Smith (206 for 1,092, 5.3 yards per carry, 10 TDs) Receiving leader:Jarrett Dillard (82 catches, 1,176 yards, 20 TDs) Defensive leader: LB Brian Raines (110 tackles, 11½ for losses, 4½ sacks, five forced fumbles)
Troy Trojans Conference: Sun Belt Record: 7-5, 6-1 Coach:Larry Blakeney (127-64-1 in 16 seasons at Troy) Passing leader:Omar Haugabook (227 of 365 for 2,184 yards, 17 TDs, 16 INTs) Rushing leader:Kenny Cattouse (156 for 774 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, four TDs) Receiving leader:Gary Banks (66 catches for 595 yards, seven TDs) Defensive leaders: LB Brannon Condren (91 tackles, six for losses, one interception, four passes broken up, one forced fumble)
Rice running game vs. Troy run defense: Rice averaged 138.7 yards rushing primarily behind the running of speedy tailback Quinton Smith. He posted five 100-yard performances this season, including a 104-yard game against Florida State. Owls quarterback Chase Clement – who is listed as a game-time decision - also has the ability to run. Clement demonstrated his running skills with 141 rushing yards against UAB. The Owls rushed for at least 147 yards in five consecutive games, but were held to just 78 in a regular-season ending win over SMU. Troy's defense is good against poor running teams and poor against good running teams. Troy played six teams 57th or lower in the NCAA rushing offense stats and limited them to an average of 66.7 yards per game. However, the Trojans played five opponents ranked in the top 50 and allowed an average of 236 yards per game. Rice ranks 55th in rushing offense.
Rice passing game vs. Troy pass defense: Rice averaged 138.7 yards rushing primarily behind the running of speedy tailback Quinton Smith. He posted five 100-yard performances this season, including a 104-yard game against Florida State. Owls quarterback Chase Clement – who is listed as a game-time decision - also has the ability to run. Clement demonstrated his running skills with 141 rushing yards against UAB. The Owls rushed for at least 147 yards in five consecutive games, but were held to just 78 in a regular-season ending win over SMU. Troy's defense is good against poor running teams and poor against good running teams. Troy played six teams 57th or lower in the NCAA rushing offense stats and limited them to an average of 66.7 yards per game. However, the Trojans played five opponents ranked in the top 50 and allowed an average of 236 yards per game. Rice ranks 55th in rushing offense.
Troy running game vs. Rice run defense: This is a matchup of weaknesses. Troy has been held below 100 yards rushing five times this season. The Trojans average only 126.9 yards on the ground despite playing six teams which ranked 75th or worse in run offense. The Trojans' leading rusher, Kenny Cattouse, has gained just 774 yards. Anthony Jones, their second-most productive runner, has only 246 yards and 88 of those came in a season-opening victory over Division I-AA Alabama State. The Trojans are 6-0 in games in which they've rushed for at least 129 yards. Rice has held just two opponents – Houston and UTEP – to fewer than 100 yards rushing and ranks 114th nationally in run defense (allowing 191.2 yards per game). However, that figure is skewed somewhat by a three-week period in September when the Owls allowed an average of 298 rushing yards to UCLA, Texas and Florida State. The Owls have allowed a more respectable 155.6 yards per game in the other nine games, but that was mainly against poor running teams.
Troy passing game vs. Rice pass defense: Omar Haugabook, the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, had three consecutive games in October in which he threw for at least 235 yards and completed at least 63 percent of his passes. He has also been spreading the ball around well. Junior receiver Gary Banks leads the Trojans with 66 catches, but only 16 came in the last five games. Sophomore receiver Mykeal Terry, who missed three games in the middle of the season, has 19 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games. Rice has allowed 28 touchdown passes and ranks 91st in pass defense. Four players have two interceptions, including CB Brandon King - who has broken up eight passes. The Owls' best pass defense is their rush, which has produced 31 sacks. DE Courtney Gordon has eight sacks and 15 tackles for losses.
Coach vs. Coach: Before coming to Troy in 1991, Blakeney – who is the winningest coach in school history - was an assistant coach at Auburn from 14 years. The Tigers won four SEC championships and six bowl games in that span. He oversaw Troy's transition from Division II to Division I-AA and into Division I-A. Troy moved into Division I-A in 2001 and is 35-35 in college football's highest division. The Trojans have recorded victories over Mississippi State (in 2001) and Missouri (in 2004). In his first season at Rice, Graham has led the Owls to their first bowl appearance in 45 years and was selected Conference USA Coach of the Year. He did that despite inheriting a team that had been recruited for a run-oriented system. The Owls ranked last nationally in pass offense the last three seasons and climbed to 51st this year. Prior to coming to Rice, Graham spent three years as assistant head coach at Tulsa - which won the 2005 Conference USA championship.
Rice will win if:: The Owls must get the football to sophomore receiver Jarrett Dillard, who is one of the most underrated players in the country. Dillard has caught 82 passes this season. Perhaps more impressive is the fact he caught 35 last year in Ken Hatfield's run-oriented system. He can create mismatches against the Troy secondary, but whether he can get the ball consistently could be an issue. Quinton Smith is a solid running back and the Owls defense must play better in order to win. If Rice can get Dillard the ball, that will be a good sign.
Troy will win if: Having at least some running success figures to be vital. The Trojans pass pretty well, but they have rushed for at least 142 yards in six of their seven victories. If Kenny Cattouse gets running room, that will likely enhance the passing options for QB Omar Haugabook. Receiver Smokey Hamilton may not play, so Haugabook may not have all his options at his disposal. The Troy running game should be effective against Rice's suspect run defense. Also, the Trojans have to limit Rice's passing yardage.
Injury situation: Troy OL James Gardner has missed two games with knee and shoulder injuries and remains questionable. Receiver Smokey Hamilton is also questionable with a separated shoulder. Rice quarterback Chase Clement had his arm in a sling after suffering an apparent shoulder injury against East Carolina on Nov. 18. He took off the sling in early December and began throwing lightly but it is unclear if he'll play Friday.
Worth noting: Troy junior receiver Gary Banks needs 106 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for his career. Senior Toris Rutledge needs 110 to reach the same milestone. Banks needs two touchdown catches to equal the school's single-season record in Division I-A. … Troy is seeking its first victory in a bowl game. … Rice has notched three of its victories on the final offensive play of the game. Jarrett Dillard caught a touchdown pass with three seconds remaining in a win over UAB and another on the final play in overtime to beat Tulsa. Clark Fangmeier hit a 40-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in a win over East Carolina. … The Owls are making their first bowl appearance since 1961 and are seeking their first bowl victory since defeating Alabama in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. That game is most remember for Alabama's Tommy Lewis jumping off the sideline to tackle Rice's Dicky Maegle, who was en route to a 95-yard touchdown run. … Rice was 1-10 last season and the six-victory turnaround matches the greatest in school history by a first-year coach. Jess Nealy led Rice to a six-win improvement in 1940.
Line: Rice by 4 ½.
Prediction: Rice 27, Troy 21. Other Rivals.com Expert picks: Bobby Burton, Editor-in-chief: Rice 24-21. Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Rice 31-21. Steve Megargee, National college football writer: Rice 28-24. Make your picks on Rivals.com Bowl Pick 'Em.