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Liberty Bowl could turn into a road game for Rice

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It won’t diminish the excitement of being there, but when Rice football players look up in the stands during the Liberty Bowl Dec. 31, they will be seeing a lot of maroon and white.

“Because we’re not far from home, I’m hoping our fans decide to make this a home game,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen at last week’s coaches press conference. “We have sold out Bulldog home games for 30 in a row, so we need to keep that streak alive, sell this game out and give ourselves a little home field advantage.”

Rice may have the better record at 10-3, but geography is on the Bulldogs side. Mississippi State’s Starkville campus is 165 miles from the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The Rice to Liberty Bowl drive covers 577 miles.

When Mississippi State sold its allotment of 10,000 tickets in pre-sales the first few days after the matchup was announced, Mullen said more were on the way. He was right. 6,000 more tickets arrived and now those have all been sold. And that figure doesn’t account for tickets bought directly from the bowl or third-party ticket brokers. A third allotment has now hit Mississippi State.

The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reports the robust bowl ticket sales is nothing new for Bulldog fans. Since 2007, Mississippi State has sold its entire allotment in all but one of its last six bowl appearances. In 2007, Mississippi State played in front of the largest crowd ever at the Liberty Bowl with 63,816 in attendance. Prior to the game, the university sold 31,020 tickets.

No wonder Liberty Bowl officials preferred 6-6 Mississippi State to 8-4 Vanderbilt. The official listed capacity at the Liberty Bowl is 61,008.

“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t sell 50,000 to be honest with you,” Mullen told the newspaper. “That’s about what we sell for every home game. We should treat it like a home game.”

Rice has played before a crowd of that size this season in hostile territory. The season opener at Texas A&M drew 86,686 fans. Rice stayed with Texas A&M until early in the fourth quarter when the Aggies pulled away for the 52-31 win.

The next largest crowd for a Rice game was the Bayou Bucket at Reliant Stadium when an announced 34,831 people attended. The largest C-USA game crowd was 25,272 at UTSA. The Owls drew 20,247 to Rice Stadium for the C-USA Championship win over Marshall. The official listed capacity at the Liberty Bowl is 61,008.

Overall, Rice went 4-2 on the road, including winning road games during three consecutive Saturday in October against Tulsa, UTSA and New Mexico State.

None of those games, however, featured cowbells. The Mississippi State tradition-rich instrument will be allowed inside the Liberty Bowl.

“We have made a decision to allow cowbells in the Liberty Bowl,” said Steve Earhart, Liberty Bowl executive director. “We will observe the SEC conference rule, which will be enforced in the stadium.”

Mullen explained how to ring responsibly during the Dec. 12 press conference.

“Don’t ring during play,” he said. “Don’t ring between plays. Ring after scores, at halftime, when the team comes on the field and before a series starts.”

Rice coach David Bailiff hadn’t heard about ringing reasonability and jokingly said during the press conference there’s a rule about no noise makers allowed in the Liberty Bowl

“They are instruments; they are part of the band,” Mullen replied.

“Dang it, I thought we had you,” Bailiff said as he laughed.

Rice still has lower level reserved tickets for sale on the Owls Athletics website. Purchasing tickets through Rice helps ensure that the university can meet financial obligations. Some bowls require universities to buy a certain amount of tickets regardless of how many the school can turn around and sell.

The tickets themselves have drawn a little criticism from Mississippi State fans since some of them feature a photo of Ole Miss legend Archie Manning. A story on WTVA in Tupelo and Starkville reports that the choices of Archie Manning, Bear Bryant, Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie, AJ Green, and Ernie Davis were printed on the tickets well in advance of when it was known which teams would play in the game.

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