Team Preview: Rice

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(All information as of July 1, 2006)


Todd Graham doesn't have any illusions about the size of the rebuilding job confronting him at Rice.

He knows he's inheriting a program that went 1-10 last season and has enjoyed just five winning seasons in the 40 years since the legendary Jess Neely retired in 1966. He knows he's taking over a program with some of the highest academic standards in Division I-A and with perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule of any team in college football.

"I'm not saying it's going to be easy," Graham said. "It's a very difficult job. I didn't come here without looking very closely at the program. We believe we can win. We do have a plan. We're going to get it done."

Graham, 41, speaks from experience when it comes to rebuilding a downtrodden program. As an assistant to Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Graham helped turn a 3-8 loser into a 9-3 winner in his second season. At Tulsa, he was the defensive coordinator for a team that was 1-11 in 2002 before his arrival, 8-4 in 2003 and Conference USA champions in 2005.

Rice administrators hope Graham can work the same magic as a head coach that he did as a top defensive assistant. He replaces the respected Ken Hatfield, who actually had a pretty good run at Rice -- three of those five winning seasons since Neely left were his -- but he leaves behind a program that was on decline since a surprising eight-win season in 2001.

Graham hit the ground running when he arrived in Houston, selling the program to long-discouraged fans, overseeing a $5 million renovation of aging Rice Stadium and hauling in a recruiting class that was ranked one of the best in Conference USA.

It's all part of what he calls "Renaissance Rice."

"We've got a great tradition," he said, reaching back to the days when Neely's Owls were a power in the Southwest Conference. "When a program's been down, you need a jolt of energy. I think we've got people excited again."