By Logan Lowery
MEMPHIS – Mississippi State makes history this afternoon by appearing in a fourth straight bowl game for the first time. A win would also give Dan Mullen the most bowl victories by a Bulldogs head coach.
But standing in Mullen and MSU’s way in today’s Liberty Bowl at 3 p.m. is Conference USA champion Rice, which went 10-3 during the regular season and has won nine of its last 10 outings.
“Rice has a lot of seniors on their team and a lot of great leadership,” Mullen said. “There’s not a lot of weak spots on their team. They have the recipe to winning a championship. They certainly have the talent that we see week-in and week-out in the SEC.”
The two teams have met just once on the gridiron with the Bulldogs claiming a 28-14 win in 1975 in Houston, a victory that was later forfeited.
State is 9-7 all-time in bowl games and has won five of its last six postseason appearances. The Bulldogs are 2-1 in the Liberty Bowl, winning their last game 10-3 over Central Florida in 2007 and also setting the bowl’s attendance record with 63,816 on hand.
Mississippi State advanced to the Liberty Bowl with a 6-6 record by winning its final two games in overtime against Arkansas and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs are vying to finish with a winning record for a fourth consecutive year.
“I think it certainly helps finishing on a positive note to end the season,” Mullen said. “Our guys understand how important this is to go win this game. We don’t play again until Aug. 30, that’s eight full months until we play again. You want to have that positive feeling going into the offseason.”
MSU is averaging 426.2 yards and 26.3 points per game. The Bulldogs throw for 240.3 yards and chew up 185.8 on the ground.
Sophomore Dak Prescott returns as State’s starter at quarterback. Prescott has not started since Nov. 2 due to the death of his mother and also a nerve injury to his left arm. He leads the Bulldogs with 1,657 yards passing, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions as well as 751 rushing yards and 11 more scores.
“Even before I knew we were playing Mississippi State, I watched the Egg Bowl,” said Rice coach David Bailiff. “When (Prescott) came off the sideline, what that did to the stadium and the other guys on the sideline you could tell he’s an inspiration to them. The whole team revolves around what he does.”
The Owls roster sports 23 seniors, 19 of which are fifth-year players.
Rice has averaged 425.6 yards and 31.4 points per game behind senior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who has accounted for 2,727 total yards of offense and 22 touchdowns this season.
Senior running back Charles Ross has rushed for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns.