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Preview: Southern Miss vs Rice

Southern Miss opens conference play against the defending CUSA champions

Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

Where M.M Roberts Stadium on the campus of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

When September 27th, 6:00 PM (CST, local time)

TV Fox College Sports (Atlantic)

After a thrilling win against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, Southern Miss turns their attention to Conference USA foe Rice as they open up league play in Hattiesburg. Rice enters the game with a record of 0-3 (0-1 in CUSA) but two of their losses were to top 25 teams, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. The Owls' other loss came at the hands of Conference USA newbie Old Dominion.

The Rice Owls have had Southern Miss' number since joining Conference USA in 2005. The Owls have enjoyed a 3-1 record against the Golden Eagles with Southern Miss' only win in the series coming in 2011 in the form of a 48-20 stomping in Hattiesburg. Rice has been up and down during their time in CUSA with a handful of bowl appearances but also some losing seasons as well. They had a breakout season last year as they won a conference title, made an appearance in the Liberty Bowl, and won 10 games.

All that being said, the Owls did lose several playmakers from last year's CUSA championship squad and are in somewhat of a rebuilding season this fall. Rice is quarterbacked by junior Driphus Jackson from Cedar Hill, TX. Jackson dislocated his non-throwing shoulder against Old Dominion last Saturday but it appears that he is healthy enough to where he will start on Saturday against the Golden Eagles. This is Jackson's first year to start at Rice as he was the backup under Taylor McHargue for the past two seasons.

Last year, Rice ran the ball exceptionally well (#1 in CUSA in total rushing yards) and they've gotten off to a good start on the ground in 2014 as well. Jowan Davis leads the Owls' rushing attack with 269 yards on 61 attempts. Darik Dillard (brother of Jarrett Dillard, former Rice standout WR) is another contributor for the Rice running game, he has 138 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns.

What has hurt Rice in the early phases of 2014 is their poor defensive play. The Owls have given up 43.1 ppg through week 4 and opponents have thrown for 344.7 ypg against the Owl secondary. A key for Southern Miss heading into this game will be to exploit the Rice secondary and rack up some yards through the air.

While Rice is 0-3, they are still 9 point favorites against Southern Miss (as I write this post) and that honestly sounds about right to me. Rice's three losses were against solid teams and Southern Miss hasn't looked particularly great in their two wins against Alcorn State and Appalachian State. However, the Golden Eagles absolutely have a shot in Saturday's game. Rice is a better team than their record shows but Southern Miss should be in this game by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. If USM can avoid turnovers and have some slightly more aggressive playcalling on offensive, a second straight win may be in the cards.