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HOUSTON Rice Owls defensive back Phillip Gaines has been named Conference USA pre-season Defensive Player of the Year.

Rice has been picked to finish 2nd in the West Division receiving 76 votes.

The 2012 season was a breakout campaign for Gaines, as he returned to his role as the Owls leader in the defensive backfield after missing most of 2011 with an injury.

Gaines was a consensus All-Conference USA selection after leading the league and finishing second nationally with 18 pass breakups. His pass breakups saved 38 points from scoring (6 TD passes plus a two-point attempt in a tow-point win over Tulane).

Gaines led the conference and was tied for eighth nationally with 1.50 passes defended per game. His career PBU total of 29 coming into the season is the most in school history.

The 29 PBU s are tied for the 10th-most in NCAA history since the statistic was first tracked in 2003.

Gaines wasn't the only Rice player honored. Owls offensive lineman Nate Richards was selected as a member of the CUSA First Team Offense.

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