December 9, 2013 1:15:51 AM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State officially accepted the invitation to the 2013 Autozone Liberty Bowl Sunday evening.
With the Bulldogs program accepting a invitation to play in the 2013 Liberty Bowl Sunday, the committee ensured its first invitation to Rice University and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 MSU team that made the program's first trip to the Liberty Bowl.
"It's very fitting that 50 years ago this year Mississippi State football played in the 1963 Liberty Bowl," Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart said.
In the 2013 Autozone Liberty Bowl the Bulldogs (6-6) will play Conference USA champion Rice (10-3) on Dec. 31 at a 3 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. Ticket will go on sale to the general public today on hail state.com, the school's athletic website, and will run until Dec. 20.
Multiple sources close to the MSU football program confirmed to The Dispatch Thursday MSU officials were anticipating making a return to the bowl game in Memphis, Tenn., for the first time since 2007.
Ehrhart officially invited MSU via a speaker phone Sunday night while Mullen stood at the podium of the media conference.
"It's a unbelievable honor for them to select you as a school," Mullen said. "The one thing we can do is show everybody we're a team worthy of being selected to great bowl games by bringing home crowds with us for the opportunity to go get our seventh win."
For Mullen the attention given to MSU by the Liberty Bowl representatives was more than enough to easily agree to play in the seventh oldest bowl game in the history of college football.
"I know that in my time here there hasn't been a bowl game more committed to our program than the Autozone Liberty Bowl," Mullen said directly to Ehrhart over the phone Sunday night. "Nobody has followed us closer and we've been looking forward to it and trying to make this happen for five years now to celebrate that 50th anniversary team."
The last time MSU was invited to the Liberty was in 2007 when the Bulldogs defeated Central Florida 10-3 thanks to two interceptions by the game's most valuable player Derek Pegues. MSU last competed in the Liberty Bowl stadium when they defeated Memphis 59-14 in the 2011 season opener on a Thursday night in front of an announced crowd of 33,990.
The MSU team will begin bowl practice Friday after final exams are completed on campus but the open practices to public won't begin until Saturday morning.
Rice accepted their invitation in the locker room after defeating Marshall Saturday 41-24 in the Conference USA championship game at their home stadium in Houston. Rice, who received votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches poll, will be playing in its first Liberty Bowl after winning the league title for the first time since joining Conference USA in 2005.
The Owls are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who passed for 196 yards and a touchdown pass to add to his 34 rushing yards. This season McHargue became the third Owl to top 6,000 career yards in total offense with his 179 yards at New Mexico State and is the first QB at Rice to start four consecutive openers since freshmen were granted varsity eligibility in 1972.
"We know we are in for a tremendous challenge, but that's what is exciting about the season we have had. I know our players are excited to play a team from the SEC and ready to get to work as soon as we can," Rice coach David Baliff said.
MSU and Rice have only met on the football field one other time when the Bulldogs won 28-14 on Oct. 11, 1975. The Owls, who have been coached by David Bailiff for the last seven years, have earned a bowl berth for the second consecutive season matching the 1960 and 1961 teams as the only Rice squads to accomplish that.
The Dispatch learned last week that the Liberty Bowl committee gave a presentation to MSU officials on Oct. 12 that was based around their hope of selecting MSU based on honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Bulldogs team that defeated North Carolina State 16-12 in the Liberty Bowl played in Philadelphia, Pa.
"The AutoZone Liberty Bowl staff does a top-notch job running the Liberty Bowl, and we look forward returning to Memphis and playing Rice," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in a university release. "Our fans have a lot of passion, and we saw that in 2007 when we set the attendance record. I know they will take over the city of Memphis and enjoy all the events associated with the Liberty Bowl."
After the 17-10 overtime victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl rivalry game, the MSU ticket office began pre-selling tickets for three bowl destinations: the Liberty Bowl, Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
According to MSU officials, the school pre-sold 4,500 tickets of its pre-determined allotment to fans for the 2013 Liberty Bowl, which was the most of the three online selections.
The Liberty Bowl committee hinted the attractiveness of MSU to its game date back to the 2007 'Paint Memphis Maroon' marketing campaign that led to a record announced crowd of 63,816.
"We know the Bulldog Nation is energized and ready to follow their team to Memphis after the Bulldog's thrilling overtime win in the Egg Bowl," Ehrhart said. "We look forward to the Bulldogs and their fans ringing in the New Year on Beale Street."
MSU has qualified for a bowl in four straight seasons for the first time in program history. MSU has claimed six or more victories in four consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1997-2000. Mullen not only brought back the Golden Egg Trophy to Starkville but has engineered wins in four of the last five meetings against Ole Miss for just the second time since 1950.
The 2013 Liberty Bowl game on New Year's Eve will mark a 10-year gap since Mullen's last appearance in the Liberty Bowl. In 2003, Mullen experienced a 17-0 victory over Southern Mississippi in the postseason game as an assistant at Utah.
"There was always a mutual attraction between the two sides," Mullen said. "I know my wife had already purchased a gown two years ago for the gala dinner they have because she wasn't sure if she'd ever get to go to that gala again. She thought that was pretty special in 2003 and now she gets to go as the coach's wife so that's even more special."
Mullen is 2-1 in bowl games since taking the MSU job and 9-2 overall including assistant coaching stops under Urban Meyer at Utah and Florida.
Vanderbilt, which finished the 2013 season with a 8-4 record but was passed over by the Gator Bowl, Music City Bowl and Liberty Bowl committees, accepted a invite to the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4 and will play Houston.
According to statistical data provided by the MSU Alumni Association, the state of Tennessee has the third-highest amount of MSU alums in the country behind Mississippi and Alabama. Most of that alumni base in the Volunteer state is led by its contingent in the Memphis area.
MSU has two scholarship players on its current roster from the Memphis area that include junior linebacker Ferlando Bohanna and sophomore cornerback Will Redmond. Bohanna has been out for nearly the entire 2013 season with concussion issues and Mullen said in the post-game media conference he had reservations about Bohanna's ability to ever return to the football field in his college career after the injury Saturday.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
4. Sunday at the Bluff today looks at bioarchaeology ENTERTAINMENT
5. SAAC plans for 'Eye on the Arts' gala ENTERTAINMENT