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Mississippi State meets Rice in Tuesday's Liberty Bowl
By: Freddy Wander - StatFox
Published: 12/31/2013  at  5:52:00 AM
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MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (6-6)
vs. RICE OWLS (10-3)

Liberty Bowl
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, TN
Kickoff: Tuesday, 4:00 p.m. ET
Line: Mississippi State -7, Total: 50.5

Rice looks to add a bowl win to its C-USA championship when it takes on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on New Year’s Eve in the Liberty Bowl.

Mississippi State was a team that could beat the schools it was supposed to, but could not contend with the big dogs of college football. Of its six losses, all came against programs that were ranked at some point during the season. Of the six wins, only one could really be considered impressive (17-10 over 4-point favorite Ole Miss). The Bulldogs have been to a bowl in each of the past three seasons, going 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS while losing in the Gator Bowl against Northwestern last season by a score of 34-20 as two-point underdogs. The Owls, on the other hand, put together a spectacular season and won their first conference championship since being the Southwest champions in 1994. They enter Tuesday having won nine of their past 10 games SU (6-4 ATS), and have been successful in their previous two bowl games, one last year and one in 2008, winning both SU and ATS. Last season they took down Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, 33-14, and easily covered the one-point spread. This game will mark the first time that these two programs are meeting. Rice has gone 3-12 ATS (20%) in road games after having won five or six out of their last seven games since 1992, but is 24-10 ATS (71%) off an upset win over a conference rival as an underdog in the same timeframe. There are no significant injuries for this matchup.

Can Rice end the season with a fifth straight victory? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The four experts finished the regular season a collective 51.1% ATS (120-115-7) on college football Best Bets, led by StatFox Dave's stellar 57% ATS (35-25-2) mark. This included a 64% ATS (23-13-2) record in his final 11 weeks. StatFox Gary was 2-1 ATS in the final week to finish 53% ATS (21-19-1) in the regular season. Gary was 56% ATS (20-16-1) in college football Best Bets since Week 3. StatFox Brian also finished strong with a 3-1 ATS mark on Best Bets in Championship Week, giving him his fourth straight winning season of college football Best Bets at 52% ATS (33-30-1). StatFox Scott is looking to repeat a huge 2012-13 bowl season, when he posted a 71% ATS mark in Best Bets (5-2-1).

The Bulldogs put together a solid offensive season with their balanced offense; compiling 185.8 YPG on the ground (45th in nation) and 240.3 YPG through the air (56th in FBS). QB Dak Prescott was responsible for helping in both categories as he threw for 1,657 yards (6.9 YPA) with seven touchdowns, but struggled with accuracy (7 INT, 58% completions). But the sophomore has run for 751 yards (6.3 YPC) with 11 touchdowns in 10 games. He put together four rushing performances of 100+ yards and also ran for multiple touchdowns in four different games. Senior HB LaDarius Perkins also helped out the backfield with 495 rushing yards (4.0 YPC) and two touchdowns, but managed only 62 yards on 28 carries (2.2 YPC) with zero touchdowns in the last three regular-season games. Junior WR Jameon Lewis was by far the team’s top receiver, leading the team in receptions (55), receiving yards (703) and touchdowns catches (five). While he was consistent on the year, he had only one game where he broke 100 yards (111 versus LSU on Oct. 5). Senior DB Nickoe Whitley (55 tackles, 5 interceptions) and the Bulldogs’ defense held opponents to 24.3 PPG on the season (40th in FBS), including only 15.7 PPG over their past three contests despite the past two going to overtime. This unit has a tendency to give up chunks of yardage though, allowing 151 rushing YPG on 4.4 YPC, and giving up 215 passing YPG on 6.9 YPA and 62.4% completions. A big reason MSU was able to keep scores low was its ability to force turnovers, racking up 24 takeaways this season, including at least three in each of the past four games.

Rice came out and ran the ball down their opponents' throats this season, to the tune of 240.2 YPG (15h in nation). The team capped off the season with 248 rushing yards in the C-USA championship game against Marshall, which it won 41-24. Senior HB Charles Ross is responsible for the bulk of the offense as he ran for 1,252 yards on 201 attempts (6.2 YPC) and 14 touchdowns despite missing two games on the year. He had seven 100-yard rushing performances, with his best one coming against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 16 when he ran for 215 yards (8.0 YPC) and five touchdowns in a 52-14 blowout win. Senior QB Taylor McHargue quietly had a great season with 2,261 passing yards (7.3 YPA), 17 TD and 8 INT. McHargue was careful with the ball over the final four games of the season, throwing five touchdowns and zero interceptions, but averaging only 170.5 passing YPG in this span. McHargue likes to spread the ball around with four different receivers catching at least 20 passes on the year, but WR Jordan Taylor was clearly his favorite target. Taylor had 846 receiving yards (15.7 avg.) and caught eight touchdown passes on the season while putting together a terrific game against Marshall in the conference championship with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Senior CB Phillip Gaines (34 tackles, 4 interceptions) led the Owls defense that allowed only 22.9 PPG to their opponents (33rd in nation) on the season. Although the run defense struggled at times, allowing 155 YPG on 4.0 YPC, the pass defense didn't give up much with 196 YPG on 6.7 YPA and a paltry 51% completion rate. Although the team recorded a respectable 25 takeaways on the season, it has forced just two turnovers in the past three games combined.

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