Tuesday, December 31: Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN at 4:00 pm EST
Rice Owls (10-3) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6)
The 10-win Owls face the 6-win Bulldogs in Memphis.
Vegas line/spread: Mississippi State by 7 (over/under 50.5)
Despite the records, Mississippi State is a full touchdown favorite with the oddsmakers.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
Mississippi State lost 6 games but played a much tougher schedule than Rice, and they win almost 7 of 10 game comparisons against the Owls, and over 50% vs. the spread. The Bulldogs rank #45 in the Strength power rating to #72 for Rice.
Strength power rating: Mississippi State 26, Rice 18 by Median rating: Miss St 26-17
Rice scoring offense: #90 vs. Miss St scoring defense: #21
Rice scoring defense: #61 vs. Miss St scoring offense: #75
Rice's defense may be a match for Mississippi State's weak offense, but Rice's offense is even weaker and the Bulldogs have a top 25 scoring defense after adjusting for their tough SEC schedule. This makes Mississippi State an 8-point favorite according to the Strength power rating.
Yardage analysis: Mississippi State 28, Rice 17 per-play: Mississippi State 34-16
Yardage differential: Rice #62 vs. Miss St #29
Rice total offense: #79 vs. Miss St total defense: #19
Rice total defense: #48 vs. Miss St total offense: #42
By yardage, Mississippi State's offense looks a bit better than it does on the scoreboard, and if the yardage estimates come true they will outgain the Owls by about 100 yards, resulting in a projected 11 to 12 point win.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Mississippi State 24, Rice 15
- Interceptions: Mississippi State throws quite a few picks and intercepts a lot, too. Based on total pass defenses (breakups and interceptions), though, Rice has an edge of about a point here.
- Forced fumbles: The Bulldogs get back about half a point here in expected score.
- Sacks: Mississippi State will probably have one more sack than Rice, worth just over 2 points.
- Red zone%: Both teams should have decent red zone success, Rice a bit more than Mississippi State. We give Rice an extra point and the Bulldogs a scrap or two.
- 3rd-down%: Conversely, neither team should have a lot of success on third down. Both teams have bad 3rd down conversion rates and good defenses on 3rd down. We dock Rice almost three points and Mississippi State almost 2.
- Special Teams: Rice has good special teams, worth 1.4 points. Mississippi State on the other hand ranks #121 in the nation in ESPN's advanced stats. The Bulldogs rank #124 in punt return average and #123 in field goal percentage, for example. We dock them almost 2.7 points.
Summary: Overall Rice narrow the spread just a bit, from 11 to 9 points, while overall scoring goes down a bit too.
When Rice has the ball
|Rice rushing offense: #28
||Miss St rushing defense: #27
Rice has a decent rushing game led by Charles Ross' 1,252 yards. QB Taylor McHargue nets 466 for the Owls. Mississippi State's defense makes a good test for the Rice offense, who should see around 170 yards.
|Rice passing offense: #107||Miss St passing defense: #26 per att: #11|
|Rice interceptions thrown ranking: #19||Miss St interceptions picked ranking: #7|
|Rice quarterback protection rank: #108||Miss St pass rush rank: #85|
Taylor McHargue isn't a terrible passer but he isn't terribly prolific either. He completed just 52% this year for 2,261 yards and 17 TDs vs. 8 interceptions. Jordan Taylor is the top target with 846 yards. Mississippi State's pass defense is like their rushing defense, almost top 25, and, on a per-attempt basis, almost top ten. Rice might have fewer than 150 passing yards.
Mississippi State's defense is a threat to intercept passes, too, led by Nickoe Whitley who has 5 picks Whitley is out for the year, however, and Rice doesn't throw very much and that keeps the interceptions down, but not the sacks: McHargue has hit the turf 29 times this year. Luckily for them the Bulldogs don't have a great pass rush.
When Mississippi State has the ball
|Miss St rushing offense: #38
||Rice rushing defense: #69
QB Dak Prescott ended up #1 ahead of the team's running back committee with 751 yards and 11 touchdowns. Rice has a very average rushing defense and could give up around 200 yards.
|Miss St passing offense: #62||Rice passing defense: #28 per att: #79|
|Miss St interceptions thrown ranking: #70||Rice interceptions picked ranking: #66|
|Miss St quarterback protection rank: #59||Rice pass rush rank: #102|
Prescott threw for just 1,657 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 7 picks this year as last year's starter Tyler Russell (875 yards, 5:3) also saw quite a bit of time while battling injuries; he's expected to miss the game. Jameon Lewis was top dog among the receivers with 703 yards and 5 TDs. Rice's pass defense ranks almost in the top 25 and could hold the Bulldogs to just over 200 yards.
Rice's per-attempt ranking of #79, however, suggests Mississippi State could have better success. The Owls don't intercept more than an average amount of passes, and their pass rush is pretty weak. So the Bulldogs might have better-than-expected fortune passing if they want/need to pass more.
Rice's season (10-3)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (4) to losing teams (0)
- @ #21 Texas A&M L 31-52
- Kansas W 23-14
- = Houston L 26-31
- Florida Atlantic L 18-14
- @ Tulsa W 30-27 OT
- @ Texas-San Antonio W 27-21
- @ New Mexico St W 45-19
- UTEP W 45- 7
- @ North Texas L 16-28
- Louisiana Tech W 52-14
- @ UAB W 37-34 OT
- Tulane W 17-13
- Marshall W 41-24
Rice was not expected to challenge Texas A&M and they didn't, losing 52-31, but they had trouble with Kansas before winning 23-14 and lost to Houston (31-26) and FAU (18-14) and were just 1-3 to start the year.
Luckily they beat Tulsa on the road 30-27 in overtime, then edged UTSA 27-21. Two more wins later and they were knocking on bowl eligibility. Though the Owls fell to North Texas, they continued winning and eventually beat Marshall for the C-USA crown. That was their most impressive win in an otherwise unaccomplished year, as Tulane is the only other bowl-bound team they beat.
Mississippi State's season (6-6)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (6) to losing teams (0)
- = #13 Oklahoma St L 3-21
- Alcorn St W 51- 7
- @ #2 Auburn L 20-24
- Troy W 62- 7
- #16 LSU L 26-59
- Bowling Green W 21-20
- Kentucky W 28-22
- @ #9 South Carolina L 16-34
- @ #21 Texas A&M L 41-51
- #3 Alabama L 7-20
- @ Arkansas W 24-17 OT
- Mississippi W 17-10 OT
Mississippi State only convincingly beat two teams this season: Alcorn State 51-7, and Troy 62-7. Troy was bowl-eligible but not chosen. They other bowl teams they beat were Bowling Green 21-20 and Ole Miss, 17-10 in overtime. They barely beat 2-10 Kentucky 28-22 and beat 3-9 Arkansas in overtime.
On the flip side, every team the Bulldogs lost to finished in the BCS top 25. They fell to #13 Oklahoma State 21-3; to #2 Auburn on the road, 24-20, to #16 LSU 59-26, to #9 South Carolina 34-16, to #21 Texas A&M 51-41, and to #3 Alabama 20-7. They had one offensive meltdown—Oklahoma State—and one on defense—LSU.
Probably the team most comparable to Rice on their schedule is Bowling Green, who won the MAC title. The Falcons are probably better than the Owls but the Bulldogs won that game at home by just a point.
Mississippi State has quarterback issues. Tyler Russell, who has been hurt on and off all year and thus ended up 2nd in passing yards, had shoulder surgery and won't play in the bowl game. Dak Prescott started the majority of the year and should be healthy for the bowl game. The Bulldogs are also missing their interceptions leader, d-back Nickoe Whitley, and two other defenders are questionable. Rice isn't missing any of their top players.
Psychology/Motivation - Some (unscientific) factors that may come into play during the game:
- Rice's season: +3 wins; Miss St's season: -2 wins
- Rice's momentum: +1 win; Miss St's momentum: +0 wins
- Rice won final game: YES; Miss St won final game: YES
- Rice glad to be there? yes; Miss St glad to be there: yes
- Rice time zones from home: 0; Miss St time zones from home: 0;
- Rice coaching situation: stable; Miss St coaching situation: stable?
Rice had a great season, going from 6-6 to 9-3 plus a conference title game win. Mississippi State cooled from 8-4 to 6-6 and had to sweat out bowl eligibility. But that final win against Ole Miss probably also cooled Dan Mullen's hot seat talk for the time being. Both teams ended with big wins and both are glad to be going bowling.
It's possible that Mississippi State should be given partial home field advantage for playing in Memphis; it's pretty certain that they'll have a decided advantage in the fan base at the game.
It's hard to pick a game between a team that has won a lot of games due to an easy schedule and one who has lost a lot of games due to a tough one. The former hasn't had much opportunity to really prove itself and the latter can't be blamed for losing to the teams that beat it.
In this case Mississippi State hasn't lost to any team but some of the very best, and that wouldn't include Rice. But they haven't shown that they can dominate a decent team like Rice. The Owls beat Marshall, a team probably about as good as Mississippi State, while the Bulldogs beat Bowling Green, a team probably quite a bit better than Rice. They only won that game by a point, and beat another similar-level team, Arkansas, in overtime.
Given Mississippi State's quarterback issues and defensive players out, we see a pretty close game that could go either way. We'll give it to the Bulldogs as the more battle-hardened team, beating the C-USA champs by the same score they beat the MAC champs.
Prediction: Mississippi State 21, Rice 20
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2013-2014 bowl game schedule.