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Southern Miss vs Western Kentucky: Old guard vs New guard

Brandon Doughty and the Hilltoppers are on the brink of history but must get through Southern Miss who looks to add another Conference USA Championship to their trophy case.

Brandon Doughty looks to
Brandon Doughty looks to
Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday when the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the Conference USA Championship Game the contest will display two of the conference's best offenses, two of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brandon Doughty and Nick Mullens, and two of the hottest head coaches in the game in Jeff Brohm and Todd Monken.

But that's where the similarities end between the two programs as their journeys couldn't be more different for them to end up where they are now.

Western Kentucky is nouveau riche.

When Conference USA had to undergo full-scale realignment after losing half their members to the American Athletic Conference in 2013, the conference was pegged a loser when conference realignment was all set in done.

Rather than dwell on the lost of potential sleeping giants such as the Houston Cougars, Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky went out and added upstart programs who had just as much potential to make a name for themselves.

One of those upstart programs was Western Kentucky.

After having steady success at the FCS level, the Hilltoppers made the leap to join the FBS ranks in 2008 as an independent before joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2009.

In the Sun Belt, Western Kentucky was an also-ran with their best season as a Sun Belt member being their last at 8-4.

Now, Western Kentucky is the best thing smoking as they have finished their second season in Conference USA by successfully overthrowing C-USA power Marshall 49-28 to capture the East Division and finish the regular season 10-2 overall and 8-0 in conference play.

The last team to go undefeated in conference play? The Houston Cougars.

The team that ended their undefeated streak in the conference championship game? Southern Miss.

Southern Miss, they're a traditional old blood.

Owners of five Conference USA Championships, 22 bowl appearances, and home to a certain Hall of Fame player by the name of Brett Favre (pronounced FAHV-RUH), Southern Miss is the lone original member of the conference from when it was established in 1995.

After upsetting sixth-ranked Houston on the road for the C-USA championship in 2011, Southern Miss followed it with their worst season in school history going 0-12. Southern Miss followed that year with a 1-11 record in Todd Monken's first season as head coach; his first win came in the season finale and snapped what was a 23-game losing streak.

In two years, the Golden Eagles went from C-USA overlords to chumps and, as a result, saw fellow members not only pass them by in the standings but completely leave them in a conference stacked with relative FBS newbies.

But after suffering through two losing seasons, Todd Monken has resurrected a proud football program that was left for dead after conference realignment. The Golden Eagles are the most improved team in the FBS, having increased their win total by six games to head into the championship game with a 9-3 record overall and a 7-1 record in conference play.

When the two teams square off this Saturday in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Western Kentucky will be trying to complete their coup d'eta for the C-USA crown by usurping another traditional C-USA power.

For Southern Miss, it will be a chance to come full circle and recapture their glory days of being kings of the conference by preventing another team from finishing the season undefeated in conference play.