December 15, 2016
If you are not busy this Saturday with holiday shopping or events, it will be a great day to watch the http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/page/cfpbowls2016/2016-17-college-football-playoff-bowl-schedule">first bowl games of the season. And don’t worry—all of them are worthy background noise if you are partying or decorating.
The day begins with the Celebration Bowl at 11 a.m. between SWAC champion Grambling State University and MEAC champion North Carolina Central University on ABC. At 1 p.m., switch to ESPN for the New Mexico Bowl between the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas, San Antonio.
If the New Mexico Bowl can’t keep your attention, flip back to ABC at 2:30 p.m. for the Las Vegas Bowl, which features the University of Houston against San Diego State University. Two games are at 4:30 p.m. with the Camellia Bowl between Appalachian State University and the University of Toledo on ESPN and the Cure Bowl between the University of Central Florida and Arkansas State University on the CBS Sports Network.
But you will want to be in front of the TV for the bowl nightcap between the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl at 9 p.m. on ESPN. With both teams being fairly close to the city, this should have one of the best atmospheres of the early bowls.
Louisiana-Lafayette is in its http://www.neworleansbowl.org/about/bowl-history/">fifth New Orleans Bowl (the only bowl the program has ever been played in team history) and is 4-0 in this game. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won those four games with a combined 27 points, so expect this game to be close.
Southern Miss is making its http://www.neworleansbowl.org/about/bowl-history/">fifth appearance in this bowl but first since a 42-32 loss to Middle Tennessee State University there in 2009, the Golden Eagles haven’t had their heads in the bowl game. USM is 3-1 in the New Orleans Bowl and has won by an average of 12 points in its three victories.
Both these teams enter this game with 6-6 records and were up and down throughout the season. The winner will be the team that feels it has the most motivation, but a winning season should propel that team in the recruiting and for the next season.
Louisiana-Lafayette began the http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/309">season at 2-1 before five of its next seven games but rallied to win its last two, which made the team become bowl eligible. USM started http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/2572">4-1 on the season but lost five of its next six games before defeating Louisiana Tech University and becoming bowl eligible.
Don’t look for defense to be on display in this game. USM is giving up an average of http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/_/id/2572/southern-mississippi-golden-eagles">30.3 points per game for a 81st national ranking, and ULL allows http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/_/id/309/louisiana-lafayette-ragin-cajuns">25.1 points per game for 59th.
Both teams’ offenses should provide plenty of fireworks. The Ragin’ Cajuns score http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/_/id/309/louisiana-lafayette-ragin-cajuns">25.8 points per game for No. 92 in the country, and the Golden Eagles put up http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/_/id/2572/southern-mississippi-golden-eagles">33.8 points per game for No. 39 in the nation.
Southern Miss has the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/23/p2">63rd best rush attack with averages of 4.7 yards per carry and 177.8 yards per game and the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/25/p1">No. 22-ranked passing game with 8.1 yards per catch and 294.3 passing yards per game. ULL features the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/23/p2">No. 60-ranked ground attack that produces 180.8 yards per game and 4.02 yards per carry, but the team is http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/25/p3">No. 103 in the passing game with just 185.2 yards per game and 6.9 yards per catch.
USM will rely on a http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/2572">trio of offensive stars in the bowl. Quarterback Nick Mullens has thrown for 2,926 yards with 218 completions on 344 attempts with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; running back Ito Smith rushed for 1,321 yards on 239 carries with seven touchdowns; and wide receiver Allenzae Staggers caught 52 balls for 932 yards and six touchdowns.
Running back George Payne, for USM, backs up Smith in the ground game with 483 yards on 101 carries with two touchdowns. Golden Eagle wide receiver D.J. Thompson is Mullens’ other favorite target, with 470 yards on 43 receptions and six touchdowns.
ULL will counter with a stout http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/24/p1">run defense, which is No. 24 in the nation and only gave up 3.4 yards per carry and allows only 128.7 yards per game. The Ragin’ Cajuns give up 241.9 yards per game and 7.31 yards per pass, which http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/695/p2">ranks them No. 79 in the country.
On offense ULL has a passing attack that Louisiana State University transfer Anthony Jennings, who has passed for 2,074 yards while completing 184 passes on 302 attempts with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, leads.
The Ragin’ Cajuns’ http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/309">main offensive weapon is running back Elijah McGuire, who has rushed for 1,028 on 215 carries with seven touchdowns. Wide Receiver Al Riles is the major pass-catching threat with 665 yards on 55 receptions and two touchdowns, but wide receiver Keenan Barnes is the main red-zone weapon with 30 catches for 406 yards and six touchdowns.
Southern Miss will try to keep McGuire from beating the team with its http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/24/p1">No. 43-ranked rush defense, which allows 4.7 yards a carry and 149.3 yards per game. USM is better against the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/695/p1">pass with a No. 12-ranked pass defense that gives up just 7.51 yards per pass and allows just 181.6 yards per game.
If the Golden Eagles are going to win on offense, it will depend on whether or not they can get Smith going on the ground. USM has the better passing attack but must stay balanced with the run game. Smith is also a factor in the passing game with 42 catches for 453 yards.
On defense Southern Miss must stop McGuire and force the Ragin’ Cajuns to pass. Bottling up the ULL rushing attack will be a major factor if USM can win this game.
Another key for the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/29/p3">Golden Eagles will be avoiding turnovers. USM has forced 14 turnovers (five fumbles and nine interceptions) but has committed 30 turnovers (15 fumbles and 15 interceptions) for No. 125 in the nation.
ULL is http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/29/p2">67th in the country in turnovers with 16 committed turnovers (four fumbles and 12 interceptions) and 16 forced turnovers (seven fumbles and nine interceptions).
Both teams are even in the kicking game. They have some bright spots and places they need to work on in the offseason.
But overall, USM is the more talented team and should win this game. It will depend on Southern stopping the ULL rushing game and not committing turnovers.
Southern Miss 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 24