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AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Mississippi St. Bulldogs 44, Rice Owls 7 -- Will the Good Times Last?

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There's a little bit of reason for hope after the Bulldogs slam the Owls in their postseason game. But is it the first sign of a turnaround, or just a mirage?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

I was sort of busy for the first part of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. When I was finally able to pay attention to it for good, sometime after halftime, there was only one thing to think: That was impressive.

Bowl games are a terrible way to gauge where a program is going, and especially when the opponent in them is the champion of a mid-major conference. That team is likely to have a gaudy record (Rice was 10-3), players with flashy statistics, but not enough talent to truly compare with the program they're facing. It's important to remember that before we read too much into this game.

Still, Mississippi State eviscerated Rice like it eviscerated no other FBS program this year outside of Troy. They outgained the Owls 533-145. The Bulldogs had 27 first downs to Rice's seven. Rice gained 61 yards rushing on 32 attempts. Jameon Lewis had more yards in receiving (220) than the Owls got from their entire offense.

And this team still has some young pieces -- most notably Dak Prescott, a dual-threat quarterback who will now be the favorite to run the team in 2014. Yes, his Tuesday numbers -- 17-of-28, 283 yards, three touchdowns; 14 rushing attempts, 78 yards, two touchdowns -- were inflated. But Prescott has impressed me this year, and as a sophomore, he has room to grow. If Lewis comes back for his senior season -- which appears to be likely -- they could make for a powerful combo.

The entire show in Memphis today could end up being nothing more than a mirage. But there's reason for hope in Starkville again, and that's pretty good for one game. It'll be even better if it carries over to another game, and another one after that.