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Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren during the second half of an NCAA college football game against UTEP Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

HUNTINGTON - Rice took its lumps in 2018 as new head coach Mike Bloomgren took over for David Bailiff, who had been the dean of Conference USA coaches.

As if transition years aren't hard enough, Bloomgren's first year was marred by injuries and difficulties on both sides of the ball, which meant a two-win season in which the Owls had to rally past Prairie View A&M before getting its lone C-USA win over Old Dominion in the season-finale.

On paper, it doesn't seem like the Owls are going to be perched anywhere near the top of Conference USA's West Division in 2019, either.

Give Bloomgren credit for trying to put together a game-plan, of sorts, though.

In tempo-happy Conference USA, Bloomgren is trying to go against the grain to make up for the lack of production that he currently has.

That means incorporating a slow-it-down pace, which minimizes the number of snaps and maximizes his team's ability to stay in a game.

Arguably the two most important positions in a slow-it-down offense is the quarterback and center positions, who are both vital for getting the skill guys and offensive line on the same page.

Bloomgren went and got graduate transfers at both spots - Harvard's Tom Stewart at quarterback and Stanford's Brian Chaffin at center - while also adding a three-year starter at left tackle in N.C. Central's Nick Leverett.

Running back Nahshon Ellerbe is an interesting piece, but the 224-yard, two-touchdown performance of Juma Otoviano in the season-closing win over Old Dominion showed something that may lead the Owls going forward.

The wide receiver corps did not need to go outside of the program for talent, as it was likely the most talented group in 2018.

Austin Trammell and Aaron Cephus are the leaders of the group while newbie Bradley Rozner adds a dynamic as well. Tight end Jordan Myers is also a threat to sneak out of the scrum for big yardage.

While the offense has some pieces that could help improve its stance from 2018, the defense is going to need to really make up ground for the Owls to become a competitive group.

That isn't likely to happen in 2019 - especially against a schedule that is arguably the toughest in C-USA.

The defensive front is going to be extremely young, which will make life a bit harder on Anthony Ekpe, who was able to get into the backfield consistently last season as the team's primary rush threat from linebacker.

Ekpe is joined by Blaze Alldredge, who is a good contributor at the second level.

In the secondary, safety George Nyakwol has great upside, and is flanked by Prudy Calderon - both of whom got thrown to the fire last season. Cornerback Tyrae Thornton will see plenty of pressure to produce after some defections hurt the secondary, also.

From a special teams standpoint, Rice is in a similar spot to Marshall heading into 2018 after losing Kaare Vedvik.

Rice loses Jack Fox, who was the triple-threat kick specialist. The bottom line is that, if you aren't going to be an overwhelming offense and your defense is young, special teams has to help you win games. It will be interesting to see what happens for Bloomgren's third phase.

As mentioned before, Rice's schedule is arguably the toughest in Conference USA, which spells early disaster for the Owls.

An 0-6 record at the midway point isn't a fear. It's closer to the expectation.

And that does not bode well for Bloomgren's second year at the helm.

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