EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of prewviews on Marshall and West Virginia football opponents.
Checking them out
You can't sleep on this Conference USA opener. For one thing, the Thundering Herd is a dismal 0-8 in the state of Texas. For another, the Owls were on the way to stealing a win out of Huntington last year before Vinny Curry's forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.
The Owls downed Purdue at home earlier in the season, but their only wins thereafter were against Memphis, Texas-El Paso and Tulane. Rice yielded nine Case Keenum touchdown passes in Houston's 73-34 romp over the Owls.
Rice's offense may improve a tick, as quarterback Tyler McHargue (1,072 yards, eight touchdowns) is a veteran of 13 starts. Ahead of him, the offensive line has been boosted by junior-college transfer Nate Richards, who should step in at center. Turner Petersen (485 yards, five TDs) is the top returning back, while 6-foot-5, 260-pound Vance McDonald (83 catches, 1,046 yards in his career) returns - as a wide receiver. Tight end Luke Willson, drafted both by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts, could have a big year.
Mario Hull is a threat at wide receiver but may be more dangerous on special teams. He assumed punt-return duties after the Marshall game, averaging 10.2 yards on 16 attempts.
Elsewhere on special teams, two-time All-Conference USA pick Kyle Martins is gone as punter. Chris Boswell is one of the league's best kickers, hitting three 50-yard field goals in his 17-of-21 season.
Defensively, the Owls will try to give up less than the 400 points 12 foes rung up on them. Cornerback Bryce Callahan led all major-college freshmen with his six interceptions and was second with 15 passes defended. LB Cameron Nwosu led the team in tackles (108) and had two fumble returns for TDs.
The Owls are celebrating their 100th season of football. ... Rice and Houston will continue their Bayou Bucket series in 2013, when the Cougars move to the Big East. Rice has won seven of the last 16 in the series after a 4-18 start. ... Two coaching staff members were not retained: defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach and recruiting coordinator/running back coach Rick LaFavers. ... The Owls had the second-lowest listed home attendance in C-USA, 17,329 per game.