Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Date: Saturday, December 17
Time: 8 p.m. CST
Radio: ESPN Radio
Records: USM 6-6; ULL 6-6
Betting Line: USM -3.5, O/U 58
All-Time Series: USM leads 38-11-1
Last Meeting: Southern Miss 51, ULL 21 (Aug. 30, 2008)
Southern Miss Outlook: Nick Mullens’ senior year didn’t exactly go as planned for Southern Miss. Although this was Jay Hopson’s first year as head coach of the Golden Eagles, it was assumed that the experience of Mullens and other returning players from last year’s team would be enough to lessen the growing pains. However, the coaching change, along with many key injuries eventually ended USM’s hopes for repeating as the C-USA West Division champion.
Although Southern Miss barely squeaked into a bowl game, the way they achieved that bowl eligibility was more than satisfying to everyone involved in the program. On Senior Day in Hattiesburg, MS, the Golden Eagles shocked everyone as they trounced the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 39-24. Mullens, USM’s all-time leading passer, went out the only way he could, by completing 29-of-33 passes for 342 yards and 3 TDs. For a guy that missed the 2 games prior to facing Louisiana Tech, there appeared to be no rust at all. I expect Mullens to show out in his final collegiate game. After that, the QB torch will officially be passed to Keon Howard for the next 3 seasons.
USM’s defense, a.k.a. The Nasty Bunch, has shown promise at times this year, but for the most part has been inconsistent. The Golden Eagles ended the regular season giving up 30.3 points per game. Although ULL isn’t considered an offensive powerhouse by any means, USM will have to avoid the costly missed assignments that have plagued them all season while giving up big plays. Dylan Bradley will do what he does best, but I have a feeling that we’re going to see a big time performance from safety D’Nerius Antoine in his final game.
Louisiana-Lafayette Outlook: Just like USM, it took ULL winning in their last game of the season to become bowl eligible. Although they aren’t the most explosive offensive team, ULL is very balanced, averaging 185 passing yards and 181 rushing yards per game. They will hope to get big performances from LSU transfer Anthony Jennings in the passing game and Elijah McGuire in the running game. On the defensive side of the ball, ULL finished the season strong, holding Louisiana Monroe to 3 points in the final game of the season. In that season finale, ULL scored on fumble recoveries of 73 yards and 29 yards. The Ragin’ Cajuns will look to continue their momentum after finishing the regular season by winning 4 out of the last 6 games.
This will be the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 5th bowl game in its school history. They have never played in any bowl game other than the New Orleans Bowl, winning the contest all of the previous 4 times (2 of those wins were vacated). ULL should feel right at home in this matchup. With both teams being a stone’s throw away from New Orleans, ULL and USM will try to rival the New Orleans Bowl attendance record. The largest crowd in the bowl’s history was set in 2013, when ULL and Tulane put 54,728 people in the stands.
Prediction: Although ULL has won 4 of its last 6 games, it’s going to be hard for them to continue that trend against a rejuvenated Southern Miss offense. With Mullens healthy and Ito Smith leading the charge from the backfield, I expect the Golden Eagles to put up big numbers in this one. The Ragin’ Cajuns will probably hang around early, but in the end, I don’t think they will be able to score enough points to win their 5th straight New Orleans Bowl. Look for Southern Miss to secure a winning season and capture their first bowl victory since 2011.
USM 38 ULL 24