Liberty Bowl: Preview, Predictions, TV info

By Tony Moss | Senior Editor

What: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Who: Rice (10-3, 7-1 Conference USA) vs. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

When: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (60,121), Memphis, Tenn.

Opening Line: Mississippi State -7

What matters: After pummeling Marshall in the C-USA title game, Rice finds itself on the cusp of the first 11-win season in school history. Head coach David Bailiff has already led the Owls to its first two bowl wins since 1953, including a win over Air Force in last year's Armed Forces bowl. Mississippi State has reached a fourth straight bowl for the first time in school history, but will need a win to avoid the program's first losing season since 2009. The Bulldogs are 5-1 in their last six bowl games, including 2-1 under Mullen. MSU lost to Northwestern in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

Who matters: Mississippi State's hero of the moment is sophomore QB Dak Prescott, who came off the bench despite a shoulder injury in the Egg Bowl and led the Bulldogs to an overtime win over rival Ole Miss that got them bowl-eligible. Rice has one of the nation's underrated running backs in senior running back Charles Ross (1252 rushing yards, 15 TD), who powers the Owls' read-option attack.

Matchup question: Can Rice run the football against an SEC defense? The Owls have seen an SEC team this year, having started the season off against Texas A&M and rushing for 306 yards in a game they were in at the half (the half Johnny Manziel didn't play). But A&M had perhaps the weakest defense in the SEC, so the going could be tougher here for Bailiff's team.

Prediction: Rice was a consistent winner this year and Mississippi State became bowl-eligible by the skin of its teeth. Still, it's hard to imagine a team that snuck by the likes of UAB and FAU beating someone from the SEC. Mississippi State 28, Rice 16.

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