Taylor McHargue

Sneak Peek: 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl

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WHO: 6-6 Mississippi State (SEC) vs. 10-3 Rice (Conference USA)

WHAT: AutoZone Liberty Bowl (55th year)

WHERE: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee

WHEN: Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET

WHY: Mississippi State will be appearing in a bowl game for the fourth straight year, the first time in the program’s 112-year history that’s happened. Rice, on the other hand, has earned a postseason berth in back-to-back seasons for just the second time, with the first coming in 1961-62.

If the way the regular season holds to form, the effectiveness of both running games — or the opposing run defenses — will play a significant role in the the outcome.

The Conference USA champion Owls, who bring a four-game winning streak into the bowl game, are far and away the more reliant of the two on the ground game, averaging a robust 240.2 yards per game that’s good for 15th in the country. The key to Rice’s running game is senior tailback Charles Ross, who leads the team with 1,252 yards and has accounted for 14 of the Owls’ 30 rushing touchdowns. The Bulldogs are 45th in rushing with 185.8 yards per game and are led by starting quarterback Dak Prescott‘s 751 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Both of the run defenses are middle-of-the-pack nationally, with the 48th (151.1 ypg) and the Owls 54th (155.4 ypg).

To say that the two teams struggle in the passing game would be an understatement. The Owls are 92nd in passing yards per game (185.5) while the Bulldogs are 65th (240.3). Prescott, who replaced the injured Tyler Russell, is a dual-threat quarterback who relies heavily on the run portion of the threat as he’s prone to interceptions — he matched his seven touchdown passes with the same number of picks in 239 attempts. Rice’s starter, Taylor McHargue (no relation), has thrown eight picks in 309 attempts, although he has also thrown 17 touchdown passes in an offense that would much prefer to make its hay on the ground.

MSU’s average passing attack could be further exposed by a Rice defense that’s 13th in the country after allowing 195.7 yards per game through the air.

The two programs from distinctly different conferences do have one common opponent: Texas A&M.  The Owls also to the Aggies 52-31 in the season opener, while the Bulldogs fell to A&M 51-41 Nov. 9.  Both of those games were played in College Station.

PREDICTION: Rice 27, Mississippi State 24

Looking for first conference title since 1957, Rice leads Marshall at half

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Without the flair and pageantry that comes with some of the conference championship games we are seeing later today, the Conference USA Championship Game has been a fun one to watch over the years. This year’s edition is not quite set up to be a classic, with Rice leading Marshall 21-10 at the half.

Rice piled on points midway through the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns in the span of just over two minutes. Rice pulled some tricks with Luke Turner taking a pitch from the wildcat and completing a 35 yard touchdown pass to Donte Moore over the middle to open the scoring for the game five minutes in to the game. After the Rice defense pushed Marshall back five yards on a three-and-out, the Owls quickly struck again. This time it was Taylor McHargue unloading the scoring strike with a 75-yard pass to Jordan Taylor, who out-ran two defenders and moved his way to the left sideline to sprint the rest of the way.

Rice took a 21-3 lead before Rakeem Cato and Marshall managed to get in to the end zone. Cato kept one play away as he was being pushed to the right sideline when he avoided one defender and unloaded a ball to his receiver, Gator Hoskins, just shy of the end zone. The play set up a short run for Devon Johnson to pull Marshall to within 11 points before halftime. The half ended with the teams exchanging five punts between them.

We could still be in for a fun finish. Marshall and Rice are each capable of putting up some points in a hurry, but the Thundering Herd have struggled on the road at times and the cold weather may be playing a factor.

Rice hangs with Texas A&M, Manziel set to debut

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Rice needed to take advantage of the first half against Texas A&M, and they did the best they probably could have asked for. Rice trailed Texas A&M 28-21 as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, but that means the season debut of Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel is now just moments away.

Rice is coming off one of their more successful seasons in recent program history, reaching a bowl game a year ago, but the Owls still figured to be a decided underdog heading in to this season opener in Aggie Land. To their credit, Rice put up 332 yards of offense in the first half and did it pretty evenly between the run and pass game. Texas A&M scored three straight times in the second quarter to take a 28-14 lead, but a touchdown pass from Taylor McHargue to Jordan Taylor seconds before halftime cut in to the lead.

Now the big questions is just what kind of debut Manziel has ready to show off. After sitting the first half due to a suspension handed down this week and an off-season that seemed to fill our timelines every other day (if not more), it will be back to football. The anticipation has been building for this moment, especially given the recent headlines surrounding one of college football’s most dynamic players in 2012.

Saturday afternoon one-liners

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Meandering our way through the offseason, a single one-liner at a time…

— First-year Cal head coach Sonny Dykes: “I went to WAC media day last year and I interviewed myself. I asked some hard-hitting questions of myself.”

— All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be on the field with his Washington teammates when camp opens next month.

— After pontificating on zombies and Geronimo, Mike Leach acknowledged that Connor Halliday is the frontrunner to become Washington State’s starting quarterback.

— A bump pay was not part of the contract extension Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops signed.

— Mississippi State won’t be affected by Oklahoma State playing “I’ve got a secret” at the quarterback position.

— Washington’s Steve Sarkisian proclaims his Huskies to be “a better football team” entering 2013.

— After a challenging first season in the Pac-12, Utah will come into the 2013 season with a chip on their collective shoulders.

Salt Lake Tribune: modifying Utah State agreement shows BYU wants meaningful November games

Mark Dantonio says he and his staff “can’t make a mistake on character” when bringing recruits to Michigan State.

— Injuries aside, Jerry Kill is satisfied with how Minnesota’s offensive line is shaping up.

— The Des Moines Register asks if there will be enough footballs to satisfy Iowa State’s plethora of running backs.

Al.com: Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue looking to stay healthy, take Owls to new heights.

Larry Coker is relishing the challenge of building a football program at UT-San Antonio.

GoGamecocks.com takes a look at some of the changes/additions made to South Carolina roster.

— As he failed to qualify academically, Cal won’t have defensive end and 2013 signee Takkarist McKinley at its disposal.

— Texas Tech adds a JUCO defensive lineman to its 2013 recruiting class.