Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Rice Owls (10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)
College Football AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Date and Time: Tuesday December 31st, 2013. 4:00PM Eastern
Where: Liberty Bowl Stadium Memphis, T.N.
by Jay, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MSU -7/Rice +7
Over/Under Total: 50.5
The 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl will kick off on New Years Eve when the
Rice Owls meet the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State overcame long odds to score a 17-10 upset in overtime
against in-state rival Ole Miss in their season finale to earn their 6th
win of the season and punch their postseason ticket. Despite barely earning
a postseason bid, the Bulldogs will now have the odds in their favor as
they will be 7 point favorites over Rice when both teams collide inside
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.
While its not too surprising that one of those SEC schools are listed as a favorite despite a measly 6-6 record, Rice still promises to be a strong challenger. The Owls not only captured the Conference USA Championship this year but they also tied a school record with 10 wins for just the 3rd time in school history. The Conference USA crown was the Owls first outright conference title since 1957. Furthermore, Rice now has the opportunity to put a stamp on what would become the schools most successful season with an unprecedented 11th victory with a win in the Liberty Bowl.
The Owls closed out the season by winning 8 of their last 9 games while going 6-3 ATS during that stretch. After giving up almost 100 points in their first 3 games, Coach David Bailiff helped get some defensive issues fixed. During the 2nd half of the season, the Rice defense was just as impressive as their stout rushing attack that averaged more than 240 yards per game (16th in FBS). In fact, the Owls defense gave up just 20 points per game during their final 10 games and finished the season as the 24th best unit in the FBS holding opponents to just 351 total yards per outing.
Therefore I believe the Rice defense can compete with Mississippi States offense. After all, the Bulldogs have not been overly impressive on offense by any stretch of the imagination. Mississippi States offense averaged just 26.2 points per game which ranked 82nd in the FBS. Quarterback Dak Prescott is the make or break player for the Bulldogs offense. Prescott was the Hero of the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. After sitting out 3 quarters with a lingering elbow injury, Prescott came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs from behind and capture a victory in overtime against the Rebels.
Prescott is the key component to the Bulldogs offense because of his dual threat capability. The Bulldogs quarterback led the team in rushing with 751 yards despite just throwing for 7 touchdowns and 7 picks. However when Prescott and tailback LaDarius Perkins are able to move the chains with their running ability, it really helps open up the passing game. Therefore it will be interesting to see if the Rice defense can contain Prescott and keep the offense bottled up. If they fail to stop the Bulldogs upfront, it may be a long afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs defense will have their own type of challenge in stopping the Rice rushing attack led by tailback Charles Ross. The senior tailback has had an excellent season rushing for 1,252 yards with 14 touchdowns and he is the workhorse for the Rice offense. Owls quarterback Taylor McHargue has not thrown the ball very well this season completing just 52% of his passes for 2,261 yards with 17 scores and 8 interceptions. Therefore just like the Rice defense, the Bulldogs goal will be stopping the run. The defense that is able to accomplish their goal of stopping the run, will likely win this game.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Bulldogs are very physical and talented upfront but they lack depth in the trenches. I would not be surprised if Mississippi State jumps on top of the Owls early, but I believe that Rice will able to find ways to stay around and possibly even win the game late. Take Rice +7
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