By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – For the first time in school history, Mississippi State will make its fourth consecutive bowl appearance.
The Bulldogs (6-6)won its final two regular season games in overtime to qualify for the postseason. On Sunday, MSU accepted an invitation to the 55th AutoZone Liberty Bowl to take on Rice at 3 p.m. Dec. 31 in Memphis.
“It’s exciting. We’re glad to be selected to play in the Liberty Bowl,” said MSU cornerback Jamerson Love of Aberdeen. “It’s just a great feeling. We get to go out and have fun and, of course, compete to win another football game.”
It’s the Bulldogs’ 17th bowl selection and fourth appearance in the Liberty Bowl. State is 9-7 all-time in bowls and 2-1 in the Liberty.
The Bulldogs made their first Liberty appearance 50 years ago, beating N.C. State 16-12 in Philadelphia before losing 38-15 to Air Force in 1991 in Memphis.
MSU last played in the Liberty Bowl in 2007 defeating Central Florida 10-3 under Sylvester Croom while setting the bowl’s attendance record with 63,816 fans.
Dan Mullen has guided MSU to a 2-1 record in the postseason winning the 2011 Gator Bowl over Michigan 52-14, the 2011 Music City Bowl 23-17 over Wake Forest before losing the 2013 Gator Bowl 34-24 to Northwestern.
“I think it’s pretty special that we keep the consistency going – to keep going to bowl games and the opportunity to have another winning record,” Mullen said. “That allows you to put yourself in a position to make a run at a championship at some point.”
Mullen participated in the 2003 Liberty Bowl as an assistant coach at Utah defeating Southern Miss 17-0.
State fans will be permitted to bring their cowbell into Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium according to executive director Steve Ehrhart.
Rice went 10-3 this season claiming the Conference USA title on Saturday with a 41-24 victory over Marshall. It is the 11th bowl appearance for the Owls going 6-4 last winning the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl 33-14 over Air Force.
“We’re excited to face Mississippi State,” said Rice coach David Bailiff. “Dan Mullen and his staff are doing a great job. You look at their schedule and you see they only lost to Auburn by three at Auburn, and they lost a shootout with Texas A&M. They really closed ranks and showed great character down the stretch, winning those last two games in overtime to become bowl eligible. We know we are in for a tremendous challenge.”
The Bulldogs have faced Rice only once winning 28-14 in Houston in 1975 but the game was later forfeited. The Owls will be the third conference champion State has played this season.
MSU begins its bowl preparations on Friday and will practice in Starkville for a week before breaking for Christmas.