Rare matchups between teams that are either meeting for the first time or haven't played each other in years tend to be highlights on the college football bowl slate every year. But the LendingTree Bowl will be an exception this season as Southern Miss and Rice square off for the ninth straight season in a battle between former Conference USA foes.

Southern Miss joined the Sun Belt this season, and it seemed like that would discontinue the series. But with Rice eligible for a bowl at 5-7 because of its high Academic Progress Rating, the former league rivals will get a chance to settle the score. Their all-time series is tied at 6-6 with every meeting transpiring between 2007 and 2021.

Fittingly for a series that is deadlocked with no scheduled continuation in sight, this will mark the first-ever meeting between the teams on a neutral field. That means the ground should be even as try and break the tie in the all-time series. 

Returning to bowl eligibility marks a breakthrough for both programs as the Golden Eagles make their first bowl appearance since 2019. It will be Rice's first bowl since 2014, and though the Owls finished below .500 in the regular season, a postseason game affords them a chance to reach six wins for the first time since 2014.

How to watch LendingTree Bowl live

Date: Saturday, Dec. 17 | Time: 5:45 p.m. ET
Location: Hancock Whitney Stadium -- Mobile, Alabama
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

Southern Miss vs. Rice: Need to know

Slowing Gore: One of the keys to slowing downs Southern Miss is bottling up Frank Gore Jr. The junior running back and son of former longtime NFL running back Frank Gore is a multi-talented back who has even played quarterback in emergency situations during his career. With the Golden Eagles needing a victory get bowl eligible in the regular season finale at Louisiana-Monroe, Gore ran for a career-high 199 yards and a touchdown while catching two passes and completing another. His 33-yard touchdown run with 7:32 remaining made the score 20-10 and gave Southern Miss the insurance it needed to escape with a win. Gore is over 1,000 yards rushing this season is the key to the Southern Miss offense.

McCaffrey back: Rice star receiver Luke McCaffrey is on track to be back for the game after missing the final three games of the regular season with an ankle injury. The son of former Denver Broncos star receiver Ed McCaffrey began his career as a quarterback at Nebraska in 2019 and 2020 and played the position at Rice last season before switching to receiver for this year. The 6-foot-2 McCaffrey has thrived with 51 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns. He's also remained a threat in the run game with 137 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Having McCaffrey back will be huge for the Owls, who lost their final three games without him to close the regular season. 

Good history: Rice has never played in the LendingTree bowl before. But Southern Miss is 2-0 in the game with a 28-21 win over TCU in 2000 when the game was known as the Mobile Alabama Bowl and a 28-7 win over Ohio in 2007 when it was called the GMAC Bowl. The game is less than two hours from the Southern Miss campus in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which should make for an easy drive for Golden Eagles fans. By contrast, Rice's campus in Houston is nearly 500 miles from Mobile.

LendingTree Bowl prediction, picks

Featured Game | Southern Miss Golden Eagles vs. Rice Owls

Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr. could be in for a big day against a Rice defense that allowed 100 yards rushing or more in 11 games this season. Opponents ran for 5.0 yards a pop on the Owls this season, and Gore is a 1,000-yard back who can take advantage. On the flip side, the Owls are expected to have leading receiver Luke McCaffery back for this game after he missed the final three games of the regular season. That should provide a lift for the Rice offense and help push this game over the projected point total. Prediction: Over 46.5

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