Owls ready for Liberty Bowl Dec. 31; alumni watch parties planned
David Bailiff, who led Rice to its first outright conference title in football since 1957, was named this week as the 2013 Conference USA Coach of the Year in voting by the league’s 14 head coaches. It is the second time Bailiff has been honored by his peers. He was also named the league’s top coach in 2008.
Rice reached its first C-USA Championship game as West Division Champions with a 7-1 record in conference play, rebounding from a loss on Halloween at North Texas to win its last three games. Rice captured the conference crown with a 41-24 victory over Marshall in the C-USA title game at Rice Stadium and received an invitation to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl shortly after the game.
C-USA coaches also honored a league-high 10 Owls to its 2013 Conference USA All-Conference football team Tuesday.
Senior running back Charles Ross, senior center Nate Richards, senior cornerback Phillip Gaines, senior deep snapper Trevor Gillette and sophomore defensive tackle Christian Covington were named to the first team, while senior kicker Chris Boswell, senior linebacker Michael Kutzler, senior running back Turner Petersen, junior cornerback Bryce Callahan and junior wide receiver Jordan Taylor earned second team honors.
This marks the largest number of Owls to earn All C-USA honors in Rice’s nine seasons in the conference.
In addition to the accomplishments on the field this season, Rice’s football program was honored along with Tulane, Stanford and Georgia as the winners of the 2013 AFCA Academic Achievement Award, which honors schools with a 100 percent graduation rate. This is the second time in the last four years that Rice has shared this award. (Rice was recognized in 2010 with Northwestern).
Southeastern Conference’s Mississippi State walked the tightrope to become bowl-eligible this season. The Bulldogs headed into the final two weeks of conference play 4-6 (all six losses were against top 25-ranked teams) and needed to win-out to get to six wins and become bowl-eligible. State did that and in dramatic fashion. The Bulldogs first found themselves in overtime Nov. 23 against the Arkansas Razorbacks and pulled out a 24-17 victory. The following week, the Bulldogs came from behind in the fourth quarter to tie Ole Miss 10-10, sending the game into overtime once again. The Bulldogs beat their in-state rival for the Egg Bowl 17-10, setting them up for the Liberty Bowl invitation.
While Rice will be making its first Liberty Bowl appearance, Mississippi State will be making its fourth trip. The Bulldogs are 2-1 in the Liberty Bowl. This year’s visit will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Bulldogs’ first Liberty Bowl in 1963. Their last Liberty Bowl appearance came in 2007, when they beat the University of Central Florida 10-3.
The Owls have won 15 of their last 18 games, dating back to a 44-17 win over Southern Miss at Rice Stadium Oct. 27, 2012.
Some of the bowl’s events include a players’ and coaches’ dinner, a parade on Beale Street, the President’s Gala, a barbecue bowl contest and pregame buffet. Rice News will be posting daily stories, videos and pictures of the Owls’ adventures in Memphis and game preparations here. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. A list of alumni watch parties across the country can be found here.
The AutoZone Liberty Bowl will kick off at 3 p.m. CST Dec. 31. Fans wishing to travel to the bowl and root for the Owls in person can order tickets online via the Rice Owls Athletics website.
The Owls fully intend to bring home some hardware.
The Liberty Bowl Bell is an authentic, one-quarter-sized replica of the bell that rang in Independence Hall to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It has the same nicked edges, foundry marks, misspelled inscription and even the famous crack — all crafted to maintain the integrity of the bell in every detail. Cast in traditional black bronze, the bell measures 12 inches in diameter and 11-1/2 inches high with crown. It is bolted to a handmade wooden yoke and swings on legs cast with the filigree design that appears on the original mounting.