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Liberty Bowl: Can Rice’s rushing attack succeed against an SEC defense?

Sam Cooper
Dr. Saturday

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Rice's Charles Ross (USA Today Sports Images)

Liberty Bowl
Rice vs. Mississippi State
Memphis, Tenn.
Dec. 31, 2013

Rice (10-3) might have put together its most complete performance of the year when the Owls knocked off Marshall in the Conference USA title game. The win meant a berth in the Liberty Bowl and a Liberty Bowl win would clinch the first 11-win season in school history. Coach David Bailiff has done wonders in turning the program around and the Owls would continue that trend upwards with a win over the SEC’s Mississippi State (6-6).

The Bulldogs are coming off a triumph in their last game as well. MSU knocked off rival Ole Miss in overtime in the Egg Bowl with sophomore dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott battling through an injury to help the Bulldogs clinch bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year. Mississippi State couldn’t stop anyone early in the year, but the defense buckled down in the Bulldogs final three games, letting up an average of 15.7 points per game in those final three contests.

The Bulldogs’ defense will need to be at the top of its game to stop Rice rushing attack that averaged 240.2 yard per game. The Owls are led by senior running back Charles Ross. Despite missing two games with an injury, the 235-pound Ross ran for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Whether Ross and the Rice offense can have that kind of success against an SEC defense will likely affect the outcome of the game.

MASCOT FIGHT

An owl duking it out with a bulldog wouldn’t be much of a contest. Sure the Bulldog has the size advantage, but the Owl’s ability to fly and overall stamina give Rice the edge here.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Rice 38, Mississippi State 31. Rice opened a lot of eyes by beating Marshall in the Conference USA finale and I think that confidence will carry over to this game. Mississippi State has been wildly disappointing this year and with quarterback Dak Prescott nursing an injury, I'm not sure how well the Bulldogs will fare against a pretty decent Rice defense. This game will have some scoring, but the Owls will cap their first 11-win season in school history.

Nick: Rice 34, Mississippi State 31. SEC! SEC! SEC! Wait, this is the game that some SEC loyalists will disown and dismiss as "just Mississippi State." Nevermind. Rice is a team that's improved as the season's gone on and win No. 11 over an SEC team would be a nice stamp of legitimacy.

Sam: Mississippi State 24, Rice 21. It would certainly be a noteworthy accomplishment for Rice to knock off an SEC team. The Owls will keep it close, but Mississippi State played its best football down the stretch. The Bulldogs played Alabama and Texas A&M tough and knocked off Ole Miss while Rice was playing teams like UAB and Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs will pull out a close win.

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