Liberty Bowl College Football Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs vs Rice Owls

2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Mississippi State Bulldogs vs Rice Owls

Liberty Bowl – Memphis, Tennessee
Tuesday, December 31, 2013, 4:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Mississippi State -7
Current Line: Mississippi State -7 (-105)
Opening Total: 51 1/2
Current Total: 50 1/2
Opening Money Line: MSU -280 / Rice +230
Current Money Line: MSU -280 / Rice +230 

Mississippi State is a touchdown favorite against Rice in the Liberty Bowl Tuesday in Memphis.

Mississippi State is a touchdown favorite against Rice in the Liberty Bowl Tuesday in Memphis.

The 10-3 Rice Owls claimed their first solo conference championship since they won the Southwest Conference in 1954 by beating Marshall 41-24 in the Conference USA Championship game. Rice claimed a spot in the Liberty Bowl with the win and will take on the 6-6 Mississippi State Bulldogs in Tuesday’s game in Memphis. Rice and Mississippi State have only met one time previously with the Bulldogs taking a 28-14 decision in Houston in 1975.

Mississippi State went 3-5 in the SEC West Division. The Bulldogs had to win their last 2 games to become bowl eligible for a school record fourth straight season. Mississippi State is 10-7 all-time in bowl games. The Bulldogs lost to Northwestern 34-20 in the Gator Bowl last season to snap a 5 game bowl winning streak for MSU. Mississippi State is 2-1 all-time in the Liberty Bowl, including a 10-3 win over Central Florida in 2007. It is roughly 182 miles from the MSU campus in Starkville to Memphis.

Rice won the Conference USA East Division with a 7-1 record. The Owls are 6-4 all-time in bowl games. Rice is playing in a bowl in consecutive seasons for the only the second time in school history, after beating Air Force 33-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth last season. Rice has won 2 straight bowl games. The Owls have never played in the Liberty Bowl before this game.

Mississippi State is coached by Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs have home wins over Alcorn State 51-7, Troy 62-7, Bowling Green 21-20, Kentucky 28-22 and Egg Bowl rival Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime to close out the regular season, along with a road win at Arkansas 24-17 in overtime in Little Rock. Mississippi State has losses to Oklahoma State in Houston 21-3, road losses at Auburn 24-20, South Carolina 34-16 and Texas A&M 51-41, along with home losses to LSU 59-26 and Alabama 20-7. The Bulldogs are 7-5 ATS and the total is 4-8 this season. MSU was a 4 point underdog against Ole Miss  and the total was 53.5.

Mississippi State is outscoring teams 26-24 this season. MSU is #40 in points allowed and #79 in scoring. The Bulldogs are averaging 426.2 total yards including 240.3 passing and 185.8 rushing yards. MSU is 58th or better in all three categories. On defense, the Bulldogs are allowing 366.3 total yards including 215.2 passing and 151.1 rushing yards per game. MSU is #49 or better in all defensive categories. The Bulldogs are +7 in turnovers with 24 takeaways. Mississippi State averages 40 penalty yards per game and opponents average 45. The Bulldogs are 74/192 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 67/182. MSU has forced 16 sacks and allowed 22 this season. The Bulldogs are 37/47 scoring in the red zone with 29 touchdowns and opponents are 32/38 with 24 touchdowns. MSU has returned one interception for a touchdown this season, and has allowed one punt return for a touchdown.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott returned against Ole Miss after missing the previous two games with an arm injury. Prescott has completed 58.2% of his passes for 1,657 yards with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He is also the leading rusher with 120 carries, 751 yards and 11 touchdowns, and also has 2 touchdown receptions and 53 yards on his 2 catches of the season. Tyler Russell took over for Prescott and has thrown for 875 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, along with 26 carries for 15 yards. He injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter against Arkansas and is out for the bowl game. Freshman Damian Williams came in for Russell, and scored the game winning touchdown in overtime on a 25 yard run against Arkansas. Williams started the Ole Miss game before being replaced in the fourth quarter by Prescott. Williams has thrown for 268 yards with 2 interceptions along with 34 carries, 101 yards and a touchdown. Prescott will likely start against Rice, but Williams could see some snaps.

Running back LaDarius Perkins has 124 carries, 495 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 26 catches for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns. Josh Robinson has 75 carries, 414 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus 11 catches for 112 yards. Ashton Shumpert has 39 carries, 161 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 3 catches. Derrick Milton has 2 rushing touchdowns, and a touchdown catch.

Receiver Jameon Lewis has 53 catches, 703 yards and 5 touchdowns, along with 13 carries, 117 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Lewis also has 3 touchdown passes. Robert Johnson has 33 catches for 379 yards. Malcolm Johnson, De’Runnya Wilson and Joe Morrow will also get some catches. Wilson has 3 touchdown catches. Tight ends Brandon Hill and Gus Walley are both listed as questionable for undisclosed reasons. Six defensive players are listed as questionable or out.

Rice is coached by David Bailiff. The Owls have road losses to Texas A&M 52-31, and North Texas 28-16, along with a neutral site loss to Houston 31-26 at Reliant Stadium where the NFL’s Houston Texans play their home games. Rice has home wins over Kansas 23-14, Florida Atlantic 18-14, UTEP 45-7, Louisiana Tech 52-14 and against Tulane 17-13, along with road wins at Tulsa 30-27 in overtime, UTSA 27-21, New Mexico State  45-19 and UAB 37-34 in overtime. The Owls have won four straight games including the win over Marshall in the C-USA championship game.  Rice is 8-5 ATS and the total is 6-7 this season. Rice was a a 6.5 point home underdog against Marshall and the total was 64.5.

Rice is outscoring teams 31-23 this season. The Owls are #34 in points allowed and #51 in scoring nationally. Rice is averaging 425.6 yards per game including 185.5 passing and 240.2 rushing yards per game. The Owls are #15 nationally in rushing, #103 in passing and #49 in total offense out of 125 FBS teams. On defense, Rice is allowing 351.1 total yards including 195.7 passing and 155.4 rushing yards per game. The Owls are #25 in total defense and #13 in pass defense nationally. Rice is +7 in turnovers with 25 takeaways. The Owls average 47 penalty yards per game and opponents are averaging 41. Rice is 89/216 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 79/229. Rice has forced 19 sacks and allowed 33 this season. Rice is 45/50 scoring in the red zone with 38 touchdowns and opponents are 33/37 with 23 touchdowns. The Owls have 3 defensive touchdowns, and have allowed a punt return and a fumble return for touchdowns.

Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue  has completed 52.1% of his passes for 2,261 yards with 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions along with 151 carries for 466 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Receiver Jordan Taylor has 54 catches, 846 yards and 8 touchdowns. Dennis Parks has 26 catches, 470 yards and 3 touchdowns. Donte Moore has 20 catches for 299 yards and a touchdown. Mario Hull has 12 catches for 99 yards.

Running back Charles Ross has 201 carries for 1,252 yards with 14 touchdowns, along with 5 catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.  Jawon Davis has 88 carries for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns. Darik Dillard has 82 carries for 396 yards and 3 touchdowns along with 3 catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Turner Petersen has 61 carries for 262 yards, plus 26 catches for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is out for the season with a knee injury. Driphus Jackson has a rushing touchdown. Luke Turner has two rushing touchdowns and has also thrown 3 touchdown passes. Three defensive players are out for the season.

Mississippi State is 4-0 ATS overall and after scoring less than 20 points, 5-1 after a cover, 2-5 after a straight up win, and 1-4 in neutral site games.

Rice is 5-0 ATS after gaining more than 450 total yards, 7-1 in non-conference games, 7-1 in non-conference games, 19-7-1 after rushing for 200 yards or more, 14-6 overall, 9-4-1 after a cover, 11-5 after a straight up win, and 2-5 after scoring more than 40 points.

This line is only what it is because Mississippi State is from the powerful SEC. If the Bulldogs played in any other conference, they would probably only be favored by a field goal at most. Rice is a very good team that has a powerful rushing attack and a strong defense. They have a very good shot at pulling off the upset against a middle of the pack SEC team, even though this is almost a home game for the Bulldogs. Expect to hear a lot of cowbells on the telecast.  Both of these teams are good at forcing turnovers, so that could be the difference.

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