Apparently, Bennett talked to Norm Hitzges on Thursday and let the cat out of the bag: If SMU loses and ECU loses, the 6-6 Conference USA team to get a bowl invite will be SMU and the invite is next to guaranteed. Presumably, that means the New Orleans Bowl. So keep an eye on that ECU-NC state score on Saturday. Incidentally, NC State is favored by three.
I find it very odd that Bennett would admit this to anybody. Actually, I think it is borderline insane. Don't you want the team to go all-in on Saturday? If it were me, I wouldn't tell the fans, I wouldn't tell the other coaches, I wouldn't tell the players. Heck, if I were Orsini, I wouldn't tell Bennett.
On Wednesday night, I listened to a little of the bitch-slapping SMU laid down on the University of Louisiana-Monroe (U-La-Mo?). SMU scored 99, could easily have scored 100, but Doherty (i) was playing walkons at the end; and (ii) ordered his team to dribble the clock out. SMU lost to U-La-Mo last year. The difference between last year's team and this year's team is night and day.
Thursday's DMN had a nice feature on Justin Willis and Emmanuel Sanders.
Friday's DMN column was all about the coaching job of Todd Graham at Rice. But that is OK, because we got a nice AP story on SMU being back from the dead.
The spread for the SMU-Rice game is all over the place and it apparently is all due to Chase Clement's health. It started around Rice -4, dropped to Rice -1, then the game was taken off, and now, depending on where you look is still off the board or SMU is favored by 1.
Rice is an interesting team. Much has been made about their identical record to SMU's while having a significantly more difficult nonconference schedule. The reality is much simpler. Rice has won one more conference game than SMU.
Rice has been the benefit of more than a little good fortune. If not for mental lapse, Rice would have lost its game against UAB. Rice needed double overtime to beat Tulsa. Regardless, Rice is where no one expected them to be and deserve whatever they get. Certainly, SMU has received its fair share of luck this season as well.
Statistically, Rice has a pretty average, yet balanced offense. 52nd ranked rushing offense (144.18 yds/game); 50th ranked passing offense (206.64 yds/game). Rice is 37th in scoring offense, with just over 27 points per game.
Rice does have a player that can kill just about anybody. Jarett Dillard has turned into a beast. How or why, I don't know. He ain't that fast and ain't that big, but he is that good. Dilalrd averages 1.54 touchdowns per game and has at least one touchdown reception in each of eleven games this year. THREE TIMES, DILLARD HAS CAUGHT THREE TOUCHDOWNS IN A SINGLE GAME! Bennett is right, sometimes it is better to take the interference call than allow the touchdown.
Defensively, Rice is poor. 113th ranked rushing defense, giving up an average 195.82 yards per game; the pass defense is equally poor, giving up 234.64 yards per game (101st), while also allowing opposing QB's to be pretty efficient as pass efficiency defense is ranked 112th in the country (see my earlier post on passe efficiency defense versus pass defense). Total defense is 114th in the country, giving up 430.45 yards per game, while scoring defense is also 114th in the country, giving up more than 33 points per game.
It would be easy to say that the defensive stats are skewed by Rice's nonconference schedule. Stealing some stats I found on the Rice message board, however, shows that is not the case. Only three teams have had below average output against Rice all season. UH (32.7), Army (19.8) and ECU (22.9). Tulane scored 38 against [Rice] but averages 20.1. Rice has allowed 31 points per game in seven conference games. That would rank Rice about 105th in the country in scoring defense. In other words, Rice's aggregate defensive statistical record is not attributable to the money games scheduled against UT, UCLA, and FSU.
Last year, I made the point that Rice's defense was terrible. There was much handwringing among SMU fans because SMU had never shown it could stop an option offense. The point I made was that Rice's defense was so bad, its offense didn't matter. The Rice defense is only slightly better this year. The difference is that the offense is better and Rice is protecting the football and that has saved them all season.
This isn't the game I was expecting three months ago. This is going to be a war. Still, I predicted a win and I stand by it. Mustangs win a close one.
Oh, and there will be no "scouting report" of Rice as not one attractive woman has ever attended Rice University. It is a statistical fact. That's science. And you can't argue with science.