Rice Owls vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7, 50.5)
Game played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee.
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL STORYLINES
1. Rice picked up its first outright conference title since 1957 with a victory in the Conference-USA championship game and is headed to a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the second time in school history. The Owls’ reward for a strong season is a date with Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 31. The Bulldogs needed to pull out overtime victories in their final two games to gain bowl eligibility.
2. Rice coach David Bailiff was named C-USA Coach of the year by his peers after guiding the Owls to the second 10-win season in school history and can set a record with an 11th triumph. Rice ended the season with four straight wins, including a 41-24 triumph over Marshall in the C-USA championship game, and will go after the Bulldogs defense with a strong running attack.
3. Mississippi State endured a particularly brutal regular-season schedule and counts its six losses against ranked teams Oklahoma State, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama. Quarterback Dak Prescott returned late in the season-ending win over rival Mississippi after a two-game absence due to a nerve injury in his non-throwing shoulder and should be healthy for the bowl game.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE: Mississippi State opened -7.5 and has been bet down to -7. The total has come down from 51.5 to 50.5 points.
WEATHER: Clear skies and temperatures in the mid 40s with winds blowing south at 1 mph.
* Owls are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 games overall.
* Bulldogs are 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral site games.
* Under is 5-0 in Owls last five neutral site games.
* Under is 6-1 in Bulldogs last seven games overall.
ABOUT RICE (10-3, 7-1 C-USA, 8-5 ATS): The Owls average 240.2 yards on the ground and Charles Ross ended up with 1,252 rushing yards despite missing a pair of games in the middle of the season. Quarterback Taylor McHargue finished second on the team in rushing and guided a passing attack that tied for the fewest interceptions in C-USA with nine. “We know we are in for a tremendous challenge, but that’s what is exciting about the season we have had,” Bailiff told the school’s website. “I know our players are excited to play a team from the SEC.”
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-6, 3-5 SEC, 7-5 ATS): Prescott led the team in passing (1,657 yards) and rushing (751) and came off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead the tying field-goal drive in regulation before diving into the end zone for the winning touchdown in overtime against Ole Miss. That score made the Bulldogs bowl eligible for the fourth straight season and eliminated questions about coach Dan Mullen’s job security. “We know how good we can be and we’re not going to take anything for granted,” Prescott told the Mississippi Press of the upcoming bowl game. “We’re just going to go out there, make each other better and push each other.”