Simply making a bowl game is a big deal for the teams playing in Saturday’s Lending Tree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile.

Rice is making its first bowl appearance since winning the Hawaii Bowl in 2014. Southern Miss returns to a bowl game for the first time since losing in the Armed Forces Bowl following the 2019 season.

Today at 4:45 p.m., when the ball is kicked off, those streaks come to an end.

For Rice, the bowl trip comes without reaching bowl eligibility. The Owls got a bid because there were not enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the 82 bowl spots. Rice was one of three teams with five wins to get a bid because of the Owls’ APR scores.

Southern Miss won its fifth game on October 27 but then lost three games in a row. The Golden Eagles reached bowl eligibility with a 20-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the regular season finale.

Now that they’ve both arrived at game day, it’s all about football.

Southern Miss quarterback Trey Lowe is making his fourth start of the season. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound redshirt junior has thrown for 795 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. However, it’s Frank Gore, Jr., who has 1,053 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, and wide receiver Jason Brownlee (52 catches, 819 yards, seven touchdowns) who make the offense move.

Safety Malik Shorts has a team-high 91 tackles to go along with three interceptions and linebacker Santrell Latham has 81 tackles with 10 tackles for loss. Defensive lineman Dominic Quewon has a team-high nine sacks. The Golden Eagles have a total of 39 sacks in 12 games.

Southern Miss coach Will Hall said his team will be challenged by a Rice offense that will have true freshman AJ Padgett or redshirt freshman Shaqui Itraish at quarterback. Padgett made his starting debut in the regular season finale against North Texas. Itraish has played but does not have a start.

“What they do offensively is so unique and different than what you see every day now," said Hall. "They really can control the clock with all the shifting and motioning and the way they gain leverage in the run game. They are extremely physical and if they get two or three third downs on you on a drive, and you can look up and the whole quarter is gone.”

Inside linebackers Chris Conti and Myron Morrison have combined for 135 tackles to lead the Rice defense.

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