UCLA set to open season at Rice
Funny how the timing works out for their families on Thursday.
The sons of NFL head coaches Gary Kubiak and Leslie Frazier will take the field with the Owls in the season opener against UCLA at about the same time their fathers' teams - the Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings - square off in a preseason game at Reliant Stadium less than three miles away.
''We're both kind of disappointed that our fathers can't make it,'' said Frazier, the safety who leads the Owls with 22 career starts. ''We've been playing with each other for the past few years and we've always had a little bit of a rivalry going on, on and off the field. We're both excited about it.''
The Texans and Vikings play again in the regular season, at Reliant Stadium on Dec. 23. Kubiak, who has two older brothers who played at Colorado State, says he and Frazier will save the friendly wagering for the game that counts.
''My focus is on UCLA,'' said Kubiak, ''but it's also pretty fun in the locker room, getting to chat with Corey and look forward to what happens Thursday night when we get off this field and see how that goes.''
The Bruins have their own NFL connection with Jim Mora entering his first season. Mora, the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, will make his college debut as a head coach. He briefly worked as an assistant under Don James at Washington before coaching in the pros.
''I'm anxious, like I'm always anxious,'' Mora said this week. ''More than anything, I'm excited to just watch our guys go out and enjoy doing what they do.''
Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley will start at quarterback after sitting out last season, and Mora hired Noel Mazzone away from Arizona State to coordinate the offense. Hundley won the starting job, but Mora can turn to seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who split time at quarterback last season.
UCLA's offseason reshuffling adds to the defensive challenge for Rice, which ranked 112th in pass defense (278.7 yards per game) and 111th overall (462 yards per game) in 2011. Rice coach David Bailiff said he and defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond have made scheme adjustments to prevent the rash of big plays that plagued the Owls last season.
''We've still got to worry about us,'' Bailiff said, ''and just make sure we're operating as a high-functioning team.''
Taylor McHargue, meanwhile, returns to the starting role at quarterback for the Owls after 13 combined starts in 2010 and '11. McHargue completed 100 of 174 passes for 1,072 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
Senior tight end Luke Willson says he's seen a more confident McHargue in training camp this year.
''He seems to be a little more relaxed,'' Willson said. ''At times last year, maybe he was trying to do too much. He seems pretty calm and in control. We kind of feed off that.''
Mora also hired former NFL defensive coordinator Lou Spanos to implement a 3-4 defensive scheme. Mora said earlier this month that linebacker Patrick Larimore, the leading tackler in 2011, was forced to quit football because of concussions.
Hurricane Isaac veered east through Louisiana, but Thursday's forecast calls for high humidity and a chance of rain in Houston. Mora said early in the week that he wouldn't turn the weather into an issue for his players leading up to the opener.
''There's nothing we can do about it, so it's not something we worry about,'' Mora said. ''It's something we consider and plan for, but I don't bring it up. We don't talk about it with the players. It is what it is and we can't control it, so we're going to push through it and manage as best we can as a coaching staff.''