RICE OWLS BREAKDOWN
It has been a historic year for the Owls, who captured their first outright conference championship since 1957 by beating Marshall in the Conference USA championship game.
This is a program on the uptick. They've won 17 games in the past two seasons, accomplishing the feat for only the second time in their history. (The first came in 1953-54.)
The Owls are an experienced, senior-laden group on both sides of the ball, having brought back all but two starters on each side.
Quarterback Taylor McHargue, a fifth-year senior, is a productive and steady signal-caller.
And Rice is one of the nation's better rushing teams, averaging 240.15 yards per game on the ground, good for 16th nationally with senior Charles Ross (201 carries, 1,252 yards and 14 TDs) leading the way. -- Sam Khan Jr.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS BREAKDOWN
For the first time, Mississippi State is headed to a bowl game for a fourth straight season, but it was far from easy.
The Bulldogs punched their postseason ticket in dramatic fashion by beating in-state rival Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime. In fact, each of the Bulldogs' last two wins came in overtime. They also needed an extra period to beat Arkansas 24-17 on the road the next-to-last week of the regular season.
Mississippi State showed its mettle down the stretch despite injuries to quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell. Prescott, who had a nerve problem in his non-throwing arm, came off the bench in the fourth quarter to engineer the win over Ole Miss and should be much healthier for the bowl game. He leads the team in both passing (1,657 yards) and rushing (751 yards) and has accounted for 18 touchdowns in 10 games.
Defensively, Mississippi State also played its best football when its season was on the line. In their last three games, the Bulldogs allowed a total of four touchdowns on defense and held Alabama to a season-low 20 points. Tackle Chris Jones is one of the most talented freshman defenders in the country. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Jones leads the team with seven tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries.
All six of Mississippi State's losses this season came to teams ranked in the top 25 of the current BCS standings. A win in the bowl game would assure Dan Mullen's Bulldogs of their fourth consecutive winning season, something that hasn't happened in Starkville since 1997-2000, when Jackie Sherrill was the coach. -- Chris Low