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Servpro First Responder Bowl – Texas State vs Rice


Two Texas schools battle in a Texas bowl. Servpro First Responder Bowl – Texas State vs Rice. This one should be good!


Broadcast Information

• Kickoff 5:30 PM Eastern time on ESPN

• Dave Neal, Aaron Murray, and Morgan Uber will have the call

• ESPN Radio: Brian Estridge, Justin Fuente, and Chris Mycoskie


What’s at Stake?

At 7-5, the Texas State Bobcats make their first-ever bowl game.  First-year head coach, G.J. Kinne came over from FCS Incarnate Word, where he had the nation’s number one offense in 2022. Flipping a roster with 53 newcomers helped the Bobcats go from 4-8 to 7-5.

For Rice, they’re going bowling for the second season in a row, after winning their final two games to become bowl-eligible. They will not have QB JT Daniels, as he has medically retired from the game of football. Will the Owls have enough to take down the upstart Bobcats?


Key Players

QB TJ Finley – Texas State

RB Ismail Mahdi – Texas State

WR Joey Hobert – Texas State

WR Ashtyn Hawkins – Texas State

LB Brian Holloway – Texas State

DE Ben Bell – Texas State

QB AJ Padgett - Rice

RB Dean Connors - Rice

WR Luke McCaffrey - Rice

DE Coleman Coco - Rice

S Gabriel Taylor - Rice

Key Match-ups

Both teams come into the game ranked within the top 50 for scoring offenses (Texas State at #17 & Rice at #47). The defenses will have trouble stopping the high-powered offenses on both sides. Texas State comes in ranked 104 and allows just over 414 yards per game. Rice is further up the list at 55 but still allows opponents to average a hair over 370 yards per game. Both defenses have a player or two that could play at the next level but as a whole unit, both have their struggles, and I believe the offenses on both sides will expose that in this game.


AJ Padgett has started the last three games for Rice. He’s only appeared in four games total this season, averaging almost 174 yards per game. The rushing game isn’t much more impressive, with Connors only going over the century mark twice all season. Those 100-yard games came against Charlotte and Tulsa, both worse rushing defenses than Texas State. Connors will have success, but I don’t see a big performance coming. Expect a bigger game through the air featuring Luke McCaffrey (yes, the brother of Christian McCaffrey). McCaffrey hasn’t always had massive stat lines but, he’s been Rice’s leading receiver eight times this season, including six of the last seven games.


The tandem of T.J. Finley and Ismail Mahdi may be the strongest of the Sun Belt. Mahdi exploded onto the scene this season and was named to CBS Sports, 247 Sports, and the Sun Belt’s First Team. He also made Second Team Sun Belt as a return specialist.  He’s dangerous any time the ball’s in his hands and the Rice defense will hope not to get cooked. The Bobcat's offense doesn’t stop there either. They’ve also got the trio of Ashtyn Hawkins, Kole Wilson, and Joey Hobert, accounting for over 70% of the receiving offense and 19 TDs on the year.


Prediction

The all-time series is tied at two games apiece. The last game was played back in 1987, a 38-28 Rice victory. The universities are separated by only about 2.5 hours. Dallas is about 3.5 away from each school. Texas State has sold out its bowl allotment. Expect fireworks early and often in this one. I think this game looks similar to Texas State’s game vs Baylor to open the season.  Struggling defenses vs strong offenses, but the Bobcats are just stronger. Mahdi has a big game and the Bobcat defense does just enough to take the first-ever bowl victory down to San Marcos.


Servpro First Responder Bowl – Texas State vs Rice

Bobcats - 41

Owls - 31

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