How deep is the SEC? The Liberty Bowl is one way to find out. It's supposed to pit the eighth-best team from what's considered the country's strongest conference against the top team from Conference-USA. The SEC has generally won these games (when they've had enough teams qualify to send eight), but could this year be different?
Date and time, ET: Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Stadium: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium -- capacity 59,308
Last year's score: Tulsa 31, Iowa State 17
Last year's attendance: 53,607
Last year's TV rating: 1.7
Last year's payout for each school: Approximately $2 million
Team with the most all-time appearances: Six tied with four
Team with the most all-time wins: Ole Miss (four)
Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Despite needing overtime against Ole Miss to pick up a sixth win and secure bowl eligibility, it’s difficult to look at Mississippi State’s 2013 schedule and identify any particularly disappointing results. Losses to Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Auburn are all perfectly defensible, and there are plenty of reasons for Bulldog fans to feel genuinely optimistic about the the direction of their football program under Dan Mullen.
Perhaps the brightest beacon of hope for Mississippi State is sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott, who overcame a nerve injury in his shoulder to lead the Bulldogs to victory over Ole Miss and caused several color analysts to get a touched overexcited and utter the words "Tim Tebow" when he was on the field. (Tebow and Prescott are both mobile, Dan Mullen-coached quarterbacks who wear the number 15, you see.) In fact, Prescott’s 751 yards running the football was good enough to make him the MSU’s leading rusher by a considerable margin, thanks in part to a disappointing senior season from returning 1,000-yard rusher LaDarius Perkins. Prescott is much more raw as a passer, throwing just as many interceptions as touchdowns passes (seven) in his first season as the primary quarterback.
Do-it-all junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis lines up in the slot and is a threat on fly-sweeps and has even thrown three touchdown passes on the season, pulling off the feat of throwing, catching, and running for a touchdown in the same game on two separate occasions.
Last bowl game: 2013 Gator Bowl vs. Northwestern, 34-20 loss
Last year without a bowl: 2009
All-time bowl record: 9-7
Head coach's bowl record: Dan Mullen, 2-1
Rice (10-3, 7-1 C-USA)
The Owls have been all over the map during David Bailiff's tenure, enduring several seasons, while also enjoying a couple of 10-win years, including this one. The Owls roll into the Liberty Bowl on a high note, having finished the regular season by winning the Conference USA title game.
Rice didn't get a lot out of its passing game in 2013 and figures to lean on its running game as much as possible in Memphis. The Owls are averaging more than 51 rushing attempts per game, and they're led by senior Charles Ross, who has 1,252 rushing yards and a total of 15 touchdowns. The Owls are led defensively by linebacker Michael Kutzler, who has 86 tackles, and defensive back Paul Porras, who has 76.
Last bowl game: 2012 Armed Forces Bowl vs. Air Force, 33-14 win
Last year without a bowl: 2011
All-time bowl record: 6-4
Head coach's bowl record: David Bailiff, 2-0