The tradition of college football on the islands continues December 24th with the 10th Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, featuring WAC runner-up Nevada taking on Conference USA champion Southern Miss.
This will be the third all-time meeting between the Wolf Pack and the Golden Eagles. USM won the first meeting at home in 1997, 35-19, and posted a 55-28 win over Nevada in Reno in 1998.
The latest Hawaii Bowl odds list Southern Miss as a 6.5-point favorite, while the over/under sits at 62 points.
Nevada began the season just 1-3, but rallied to win five-straight and six of their last eight to finish tied for second in the WAC with a 5-2 conference record. Three of the Wolfpack’s five losses were by four points or less.
Nevada ranks 31st nationally in points scored (33 points per game) while compiling 523 yards per game (271 passing, 252 rushing). Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Cody Fajardo lead the offense with a combined 2,112 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry.
Cody Fajardo (71 percent completion rate, 1,647 yards, six TDs, five INTs) missed time at the end of the season due to injury. If he can’t go, the signal-caller will be Tyler Lantrip, who has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,496 yards and 10 TDs with six interceptions. The offensive line has given up 15 sacks. Rishard Matthews leads the receiving corps with 91 receptions (51 more than anyone else) for 1,364 yards and eight scores.
The Wolf Pack defense ranks 58th nationally in scoring defense (25 ppg), surrendering 372 yards per game (227 passing, 145 rushing) while compiling 22 sacks and forcing 23 turnovers with three converted to TDs (Marlon Johnson and Bubba Boudreaux, fumbles; Jeremiah Green, interception).
Linebacker Brandon Marshall leads the unit with 96 tackles, adding two sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery, while J.M. Johnson adds 87 tackles, a pick, forced fumbler, recovery and a half-sack. Brett Roy has 10 sacks, 64 tackles and a fumble recovery, while Isaiah Frey has five picks and 30 tackles.
Southern Miss hit a school record 11 wins this season and earned the Conference USA championship after beating previously-unbeaten Houston in the title game. Their success came with a price, however, as head coach Larry Fedora will leave to take the head coaching job at North Carolina next year.
USM ranks 14th nationally in points scored (38 ppg), compiling 471 yards per game (263 passing, 208 rushing). Austin Davis has completed 62 percent of his passes 3,331 yards and 28 TDs with 11 interceptions. The offensive line has given up 15 sacks.
Kelvin Bolden is the top receiving threat with 55 catches for 647 yards and six touchdowns, while Ryan Balentine has 49 catches for 742 yards and eight scores. Jamal Woodyard leads the running game with 683 yards with three TDs on 6.4 yards per carry.
The Eagle defense ranks 29th nationally in points allowed (21 ppg), giving up 346 yards per game (233 passing, 113 rushing) while recording 24 sacks and forcing 26 turnovers with 10 of them returned for TDs (Deron Wilson, Korey Williams, Marquese Wheaton, Ronnie Thornton, Octavius Thomas, Kendrick Presley and Jamie Collins, eight interceptions; Wheaton, two fumbles).
Thornton leads the defense with 104 tackles, adding two picks, a forced fumble and a sack, while Collins has 94 tackles with 6.5 sacks, a pick, a forced fumble and a recovery. Cordarro Law has 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles with 57 tackles, while Wilson has four picks and 70 tackles.
2011 Hawaii Bowl Free Pick: Southern Miss -6.5
The Golden Eagles are the much more complete team. Look for the Wolfpack to struggle to run the ball against this talented Southern Miss front seven. I like Southern Miss in this one.