Despite not meeting the six-win threshold typically required to play in a bowl game, the 5-7 Rice Owls will be taking on the Southern Mississippi Eagles in the LendingTree Bowl. We'll break down the game and go over my best bet for the game.
The Rice Owls finished the season by losing four of their last five games, and the injury bug they dealt with all season has followed them into bowl season. As of right now, the Owls will be down to their third-string quarterback and true freshman, AJ Padgett. Starting quarterback T.J McMahon has been banged up and has yet to be cleared to play in the bowl game.
Rice could also be without wide receiver Luke McCaffrey, who missed the last two games of the season. The Owls were 93rd in the country in points per game this season, so being down to a third-string quarterback and missing a receiver is the last thing this offense needs. It will be up to running backs Ari Broussard and Cameron Montgomery to carry the load on offense. The duo rushed for a combined 749 yards this season.
Defensively the Owls were not anything to write home about either. Rice allowed an average of 36 points per game and let up an average of 166.4 rushing yards per game. Those stats should bring a smile to Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr.'s face. The Golden Eagles running back rushed for 1,053 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
The (6-6) Golden Eagles' offense was not overly impressive this season, averaging just 308.6 total yards a game. Offensively they ranked 99th in the country in rush yards a game and 108th in the country in passing yards per game, so one could only go as far as saying they got the job done this season but nothing more.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Golden Eagles were far more impressive, holding opponents to an average of just 24.7 points per game.
Southern Miss can be found as -6 point favorites, and they are my best bet for this one. The Golden Eagles were 8-3-1 ATS this season and have significant advantages today against this depleted Owls team.
The Rice defense allowed an average of 6.2 yards per play which was 120th in the country, and the previously mentioned Frank Gore Jr. will be able to find success all game against the Owls' defense.
Offensively the Owl's injuries may be too much to overcome in this one. The Golden Eagles were able to limit opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry this season, so if the Owls do have a run-heavy game plan, they won't be able to sustain long scoring drives.
Southern Miss was able to force an average of 1.6 turnovers per game which was 33rd in the country, so their defensive playmaking ability will pose a big challenge to the Owls' inexperienced true freshman quarterback. The Golden Eagles have been able to rely on their defense to win games, and today should be no different.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (-6)