HATTIESBURG -- Rice may provide a stiff challenge for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles Saturday.
While the Owls are 4-5 overall and 2-3 in Conference USA, their competition has been good. Four losses were to Baylor, Texas, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech.
Their statistics are pretty good. The Owls are averaging 233.2 yards per game passing and 173.6 yards per game rushing.
They have a veteran quarterback in senior Driphus Jackson.
"Their quarterback is a guy that can extend plays, that's what hurt us last year is him scrambling around and making some throws," Southern Miss defensive coordinator David Duggan said. "Any time you've got an athletic quarterback back there who can extend plays is a concern for you as a coach."
And Rice is playing at home, in their homecoming game. Rice has won its last 10 homecoming contests and has never lost a homecoming game while in Conference USA.
But USM has some things going for it, too.
Southern Miss is 6-3 overall and 4-1 in Conference USA, a half-game out of first place in the West Division behind Louisiana Tech, which is 5-1 in the league. The six wins qualifies USM for bowl eligibility.
The next goal is to win the West. Southern Miss has three C-USA games remaining, against Rice, Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech. Win all three, and that puts USM in the Conference USA championship game against the winner of the East Division.
"Where we're at right now is where you want to be," Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken said. "I don't know how many teams in the country can say it's November and they have a chance to play for a championship. We control our own destiny, which is a great place to be. That's where you want to be and our players have earned that. So we're excited about the opportunity to go down and play at Rice."
The Eagles are averaging 186.2 yards rushing per game, with Jalen Richard (808 yards) and Ito Smith (632 yards) doing most of the damage.
And they have passed for 321.4 yards per game as quarterback Nick Mullens has consistently hit receivers Casey Martin (54 receptions), Mike Thomas (40 catches) and D.J. Thompson (39 catches).
The Owls have lost their last two games, but Monken says don't be fooled.
"They are one of best teams in our conference and one of the best-coached teams that you're going to face," Monken said. "So we're going to have to be at our best and I anticipate that our guys will be."
Game time is 2:30 p.m. The American Sports Network will televise the game via WXXV (Fox) in Biloxi/Gulfport.