For the second straight year, Australia will host an opening week college football game as the Rice Owls take on the perennial Pac-12 powerhouse #14 ranked Stanford Cardinals. The game kicks off at 10 pm E.T. on Saturday, August 26th.
The Stanford Cardinals are coming off a 10-3 season that ended with a Sun Bowl victory over North Carolina. The team is returning most of its starters on both sides of the ball and is, once again, aiming to win the Pac 12 crown.
The 2016 season for Rice was not a kind one. In fact, it was downright ugly. At 3-9, the Owls had their worst record since 2009, but the team hopes they can turn things around with many starters and key contributors returning from injuries.
Initially, the line opened with Stanford favored by 33.5 points, but has since come down to 31 points.
There’s very little doubt that Stanford will come out victorious against Rice. However, there is some questions in regards to how much the Cardinals will win by. Last year, Stanford was a heavy favorite over Rice in their late-November game. The Cardinals were -34 at home versus an inferior Rice Owls. The game ended up being played in rain, which possibly aided in Rice being able to cover the spread in defeat (41-17).
Although the weather should be fine in Australia, there are still some concerns that could prevent Stanford from covering the current 31 point spread. First, both teams are traveling across the globe to play on a neutral site. Could this long distance travel affect Stanford like the rain did last year? Let’s also not forget that Stanford started 2016 very slowly with a 4-3 record and they have the USC Trojans next on their schedule, which could cause the Cardinals to overlook the Owls.
Another concern is the health of Keller Chryst who suffered an injury to his ACL during the bowl game against North Carolina in January. This injury forced Chryst to undergo surgery, which was supposed to keep him out 6-9 months. He was able to return to practice at the beginning of August and is expected to lead the offense in their first game.
In addition to Chryst, Christian McCaffrey’s departure to the NFL this spring has left a huge void to fill. Bryce Love could be up to this task, but it may take some time for everyone to get into a groove offensively.
Even though the defense lost key contributors, like defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, they’re expected to smother the Rice offense and continue their defensive success that saw them finish 2016 as the #18 ranked unit.
Rice can’t go anywhere, but up on defense. They’ve been working on defensive improvements all off-season and hope to aid their offensive success from last year to create a more balanced team. Just 4 years ago, Rice won 10 games and appeared to be heading into a bright future. Unfortunately, that future darkened quickly as they plummeted to the bottom of the conference.
Rice does have some questions to be answered at the quarterback position just like Stanford. However, they are returning some playmakers on offense with running backs Austin Walker and Samuel Stewart. Wide receiver Kylen Granson is also expected to help propel this offensive unit to their normal high scoring outputs from a few seasons ago.
In 2016, Stanford was 6-6 ATS, which was slightly worse than Rice at 7-6 ATS. Rice is 5-2-1 ATS in their last 8 games and 15-5-2 ATS in their last 22 non-conference games.