Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Two Mississippi college football teams are going bowling this year: Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. Both the Bulldogs and the Golden Eagles fell short of expectations, but they are getting an extra month of practice time.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Southern Miss stunned Houston in the Conference-USA title game, winning 49-28. USM lobbied to be included into the Bowl Championship Series, but its losses to Marshall and Alabama-Birmingham ended any BCS hopes. The Liberty Bowl was out of the question, too. Instead, USM is headed to Hawaii. Southern Miss will face the Nevada Wolf Pack on Christmas Eve.
Nevada runs the pistol offense (think of the shotgun but with the quarterback lining up halfway between the center and a true shotgun position). The Wolf Pack is a potent offensive team. Averaging 251.8 rushing yards per game, Nevada has the eighth best rushing attack in the nation. Nevada is not too shabby in the passing game, either, averaging 271 yards per game. Overall, Nevada has the fifth best offense in the national compiling 522.8 yards per contest.
The Wolf Pack finished the season 7-5, but their only loss to a team not going to a bowl game was to Texas Tech. Nevada lost four of five games on the road with their only home loss to Louisiana Tech. This team is accustomed to playing ranked teams, having played Oregon and Boise State.
Expect an offensive game in Hawaii. Both teams average more than 30 points per game. Nevada averages 32.9 points per game, and USM averages 37.9 points an outing.
Southern Miss' offense is not bad, either. The Golden Eagles pass for 271.5 yards and rush for 207.8 yards per game. USM is No. 13 on offense, with 471 yards a game.
In what could be a shoot-out, defense could save the day for one team. Nevada is allowing 25.3 points per game, and Southern Miss is only allowing 21.1 a game.
This will be the final USM game for coach Larry Fedora (He took a job with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels) and quarterback Austin Davis.
Watch Dec. 24 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Flynn's Pick: USM
Music City Bowl
The Bulldogs (6-6) will face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6) in Nashville. MSU needed to beat in-state rival Ole Miss to get bowl eligible.
Wake Forest is one of the smaller schools enrollment-wise to play Division I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) football. The team ended its regular season with a spanking from Vanderbilt. The Demon Deacons were inconsistent this season. Wake won four games in a row at one point but also had a three-game losing streak.
Neither team lights up the scoreboard offensively. Neither MSU (No. 87) nor Wake Forest (No. 76) broke into the national top 50 (or even the top 75, for that matter) on offense or with points scored. The Bulldogs struggle to get to 25.5 points a game, and Wake only musters 26.8 points a contest.
MSU has the edge in rushing with 168.8 yards to Wake Forest's 118.9 yards per game. The Demon Deacons have the upper hand passing with 273.8 yards to the Bulldogs 200.2 yards a game. Deacons quarterback Tanner Price passed for more yards (2,803 yards) than MSU's Chris Relf (1,083 yards) and Tyler Russell (1,034 yards) combined.
The Bulldogs were just as inconsistent as the Demon Deacons were this season. MSU's longest winning "streak" was two games, and they had a two-game losing streak twice.
This is the first time Wake Forest has been to a bowl game since 2008. That year, the Demon Deacons defeated Navy in the EagleBank Bowl.
Mississippi State defeated Michigan in the Gator Bowl last season. MSU is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1998-99. The Bulldogs are on a four-game bowl-winning streak.
This is the first matchup in a bowl game between MSU and Wake Forest.
Just like the USM/Nevada game, defense could end up being the key to a victory. Wake Forest is allowing 27.8 points a game and MSU is only giving up 19.9 points per game.
MSU has the defense to win this game and should finally get healthy on offense. Stopping the Wake Forest passing game is the key. The Bulldogs can shorten the game with their running game and keep Wake's quarterback Tanner Price on the sideline.
Watch Dec. 30 at 5:45 p.m. on ESPN.
Flynn's Pick: MSU