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AutoZone Liberty Bowl 2013 Preview: Two Teams Meet After a Season of Close Games

Neither Mississippi State nor Rice has made a habit of lopsided wins this year, so why would the Liberty Bowl be any different?

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Rice Owls vs. Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

To some extent, it's a bit of a miracle, or at least a surprise, that Mississippi State even made the postseason this year. It took an overtime victory against Arkansas and another overtime victory against Ole Miss the following week just to get the Bulldogs bowl-eligible. And that came after a narrow win against Kentucky and the narrowest of wins against Bowling Green, which almost pulled the upset in Starkville in the 21-20 game. Troy is the only FBS team that the Bulldogs defeated by more than one possession.

They'll face another opponent that's experienced in games decided by one score in Rice; the Owls went 5-1 in those games this season, and that doesn't include a nine-point win against Kansas. The fact that Mississippi State is a favorite by seven points, then, seems to be a little bit on the high end -- neither of these teams has shown a flair for games decided by more than a touchdown.

Both will also likely lean pretty heavily on the run, which points toward a lower-scoring game. A sizable majority of Rice's offense comes on the ground, with the team's rushing total of 3,122 yards accounting for 56.4 percent of their total offense this year; 30 of the Owls' 50 touchdowns have come in the running game. With 185.8 yards a game rushing, Mississippi State is not as prolific as its opponent, but its ground attack is at least marginally better than its passing game.

So the game could come down to who can stop the other team's runners. For Mississippi State, that means a focus on stopping Charles Ross, who ran for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns on 201 carries during the regular season. For Rice, the priority will be to force Dak Prescott to throw the ball instead of running it, since the Bulldogs quarterback is also their leading rusher.

There's really not that much difference statistically in rushing defense between the two teams, but one of them rang up those statistics in the SEC and another in a weakened Conference USA. Give the Bulldogs the edge, but not by much.

Mississippi State 24, Rice 20