Hawaii Bowl: So. Miss vs. Nevada

Published on Dec. 24 at 12:20 a.m. Eastern

By Brian Edwards

With no NFL night game on Christmas Eve, Southern Mississippi and Nevada will take center stage when they meet Saturday in the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.

Most betting shops opened Southern Miss (11-2 straight up, 8-4-1 against the spread) as a six-point favorite but the number has been bet up to nine at most spots, as of late Friday night. The total has gone from 61 ½ up to 64. Gamblers can take Chris Ault’s team to win outright for a plus-500 return (risk $100 to win $500).

So. Miss is losing its head coach Larry Fedora, who has taken the same gig at North Carolina but will coach his team for the final time tonight. This is the best So. Miss team of his four-year campaign that was highlighted by the Golden Eagles’ 49-28 win over previously-unbeaten Houston as 12-point underdogs in the Conference USA title game.

Austin Davis threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns and USM got one touchdown apiece from the defense and special teams. The Eagles’ defense stymied the Cougars’ prolific offense, holding it to a season-low 28 points while intercepting Case Keenum twice.

So. Miss arrived in Hawaii on Sunday and Fedora has made it clear that his looming exit hasn’t had any impact on the team’s preparation. He told the Hattiesburg American, “It was just like the first [practice] we had four years ago and these kids have bought in and done everything we’ve asked them. I haven’t changed the way I coached them. We coached hard and got after their butts and they responded the way we needed to.”

Nevada (7-5 SU, 5-7 ATS) bounced back from narrow losses to La. Tech and Utah St. to win its regular-season finale in blowout fashion, blasting Idaho 56-3 as a 17 ½-point home ‘chalk.’

Tyler Lantrip torched the Vandals by completing 24-of-31 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Aaron Bradley had seven receptions for 133 yards and three TDs. Lampford Mark rushed 24 times for 104 yards and one score.

For the season, Lantrip has a 10/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio but it’s unclear how much playing time Lantrip will get against So. Miss. After missing the win over Idaho with a sprained ankle, freshman QB Cody Fajardo is expected to get the starting nod.

Fajardo had started seven games in a row before suffering the injury against Utah St. in Week 13. He has a 6/5 TD-INT ratio but has been extremely productive with his legs, rushing for 680 yards and 11 TDs.

Lampford has emerged from the shadows of the departed Vai Taua, producing a team-high 728 rushing yards and eight TDs. Mike Ball has split carries with Lampford, rushing for 704 yards and three scores.

Davis surpassed Brett Favre as USM all-time passing leader earlier this year. In 2011, Davis threw for 3,331 yards with a 28/11 TD-INT ratio. His favorite target is Ryan Balentine, who has 49 catches for 742 yards and eight TDs.

USM has been a single-digit favorite four times this year, going 2-2 ATS. Meanwhile, Nevada owns a 2-1 spread record in three previous underdog spots.

Totals have been an overall wash for Nevada (6-6), but the ‘over’ has hit in four of its last six games. The ‘under’ is 7-6 overall for overall for So. Miss, but the ‘over’ is 4-1 in its last five outings.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Nevada is playing in a bowl game for a seventh straight season. The Wolf Pack beat Boston College 20-13 in last year’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

–After beating Troy 30-27 in overtime of the New Orleans Bowl in Fedora’s first year, USM has lost back-to-back bowl games, including last season’s 31-28 loss to Louisville in St. Pete.

–Nevada and So. Miss played a home-and-home series in 1997 and 1998 with So. Miss winning in convincing fashion both times.

–Just as I wrote and tweeted several times over the last few days, it’s beyond ridiculous that Boise St. has been so wronged by the BCS system the last two years. As college football fans, we were all completely robbed of the opportunity to see Kellen Moore do his thing on a bigger stage during the junior and senior seasons of his brilliant career. Congrats to Moore on a remarkable run at Boise St in which he had an incredible 50-3 record with the three losses coming by five combined points in games that would’ve each been won by the Broncos if not for missed FGs at crunch time. Moore went unbeaten against BCS foes, beating Oregon twice, winning [at] Va. Tech, [at] Georgia, vs. Oregon St. and vs Arizona St.

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