December 27, 2013 11:50:13 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
Taylor McHargue is living the dream.
The Rice fifth-year senior quarterback defines having it all. An athletic 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, McHargue is recognized by everybody on campus and is believed to have a bright future after he graduates.
McHargue helped raise his profile at school by helping to lead the football team to a 41-24 victory against Marshall in the Conference USA championship game. Rice, which was in its first C-USA title game, hadn't won an outright championship since claiming the Southwest Conference title in 1957. The Owls (10-3) last shared a conference title in 1994 when it was still a member of the SWC.
"I think when you look at it, we executed at a high level on a huge stage, on a cold day in front these excited home fans," McHargue said. "What else could you ask for?"
Rice will try to end on an even higher note at 3 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN) when it takes on Mississippi State (6-6) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.
"This is where our seniors wanted to go," Rice coach David Bailiff said. "The top of our (goals) pyramid is to go to the Liberty Bowl and win. Now we have the opportunity to do that."
McHargue earned honorable mention All-C-USA honors after amassing 2,727 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns. Despite pushing Rice to a 10-win season and a bowl game, McHargue isn't satisfied.
"There will be a lot of people who will come out and say, 'Well that was a good (41-24) win against Marshall, but you're still a Conference USA school with three losses,' " McHargue said. "This will be an opportunity to show that this team can compete with anybody in any conference."
McHargue is the first quarterback in school history to lead his team to consecutive bowl berths. He set a career-high by throwing for 2,261 yards, which is fourth best in Rice history. He also is the first quarterback at Rice to start four consecutive openers since freshmen were granted varsity eligibility in 1972.
"When you look at those 23 seniors and 19 fifth-year guys, this is what they said they wanted to do," Bailiff said. "They had a dream and they matched it with effort, and here we are making their dreams come true. What a legacy this senior class is going to leave us and this university."
Off the field, McHargue has the suit and tie look of a summer intern in finance. As a Managerial Studies graduate of one of the nation's top schools, McHargue has completed three summer internships, starting with Rice University's finance department. After that, McHargue spent four months as an intern at Merrill Lynch in Houston and then worked with the private law firm in Austin and Houston of Andrews Myers, P.C. Not too many Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks can trade in a suit for shoulder pads and perform at a high level in either setting, but McHargue isn't focused on moving on to the NFL.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said the Bulldogs won't underestimate McHargue or Rice.
"It would be easy for anybody to say, 'Well, it's a lower level conference team and so we're supposed to have more talent, but c'mon, this is a 10-win football team that won a conference championship, something we didn't do," Mullen said. "I see a very disciplined, well coached, and highly athletic group of seniors that can beat anybody on a given day."
Rice has won 15 of its last 18 games and has 23 seniors, including 19 fifth-year players. Bailiff bristled at the idea his team will have problems matching up against a Southeastern Conference school.
"We know we are in for a tremendous challenge, but that's what is exciting about the season we have had," Bailiff said. "I know our players are excited to play a team from the SEC."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.