Let me begin by introducing myself and just give a brief history of my interest in college football. I began watching football in general at a very young age and my passion for the sport has just increased more and more as the years have gone by. I did not start paying very close attention to college football, religiously like I do now, until I was a freshman in college, but had always watched games here and there since I was a teenager. I went to school at a private University in Oklahoma not too far from Norman and naturally found myself rooting for the OU Sooners being that my school did not have a football team of it's own. I still have a lot to learn about the sport as the game is constantly evolving. I believe that one can never know enough about something and there is always something new to learn. My role on this site will be to continue posting the offseason discussions for NinersNation and to help carry us through the bowl season in looking at some of the key players that will be playing in these games. The main objective I think is to provide more insight for those that don't follow as regularly and give a more clear picture as to who we should be looking at for now and for the future.
With the New Mexico Bowl and the St. Petersburg Bowl one day old in the books, we look forward to today's match-up in The New Orleans Bowl between the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) versus the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (9-3, 7-1 SBC). This game should be chalked-full of fireworks and high-flying action as the Golden Eagles come in to the game averaging 33.0 PPG and the Blue Raiders come in averaging 31.2 PPG. Both teams have been very good on the offensive side of the ball. This contest will most likely come down to who has the slight edge on defense or the second scenario in whoever has the ball last. The Blue Raiders have a better overall season record but the Golden Eagles own more bowl appearances. Neither of the teams are ranked in the top 25. Below we will take a more in-depth look at some of the key players in the game as well some other miscellaneous information in opening it up for discussion.
Let's take a look now at both teams...
THE NEW ORLEANS BOWL PREVIEW:
Southern Miss comes in to the game finishing third in their conference just behind UCF and ECU. This will mark the second appearance in a row in The New Orleans Bowl for the Golden Eagles. No stranger to this specific bowl, the Eagles will have made their impression in New Orleans for the fourth time in six years.
Key playes for the Golden Knights:
The senior RB leads the team in rushing and will be one of the focal points on offense. He has shared time with Harrison throughout the season and will have an impact on this evenings game. It will be up to the RB's on the Golden Knights to slow the tempo of the game and control the clock. Fletcher was just 63 yards shy of 1000 yard season and averaged 76 yards a game with 8 TD's on the season.
While Fletcher led the team in total rushing yards, Harrison has more yards per carry at 6.6 yards an attempt. Harrison also has 1 more TD than Fletcher with 9. This combination has made it difficult for teams to stop as they are able to wear defenses down.
Brown leads the team in receptions with 43, yards a reception at 16.7, and receiving TD's 7. He is considered to be the primary target on offense and should have a tough challenge against the strong defensive backfield of the Blue Raiders. He may emerge next year as one of the top receivers in the NCAA.
There is definitely some talent at the WR position on this team but Baptiste is probably the 2nd most targeted WR on this football team. I have a feeling that the ball will be spread around a lot. We should keep an eye on this guy to see what sort of game he has.
6'2" 186, Hicks is 5th in the C-USA in interceptions with 5 for 62 yards. He has 13 total INT's in his collegiate career. Since we are in need of some depth at the safety position, Hicks could very well be a late round pick to try out in the preseason. His career total on tackles is 231.
Led by Coach:
Larry Fedora (2nd year, 14-11)
The Blue Raiders are the type of team that can beat you on the ground or in the air. They have one of the most dangerous QB's in college football and a very good defensive backfield. The Blue Raiders finshed second in their conference and only because they had a conference loss to Troy mid season.
Key players for the Blue Raiders:
Leads the team not only in passing but he is the leading rusher as well. Dasher is just as his name says, a dasher. He will beat you with his feet on the ground or he'll dazzle you with his strong arm and passes. If MTSU has any shot at winning, they will need Dasher to have a spectacular game.
Next to Dasher, Kyles is the Blue Raiders leading rusher with 822 yards and 3 TD's averaging 6.4 yards an attempt. The Raiders will need a balance of run and pass and not just through the QB. Kyles will need to have a decent game to give his team a fair shake at taking home the trophy.
Udell is definitely flying below the radar as being one of the best in the country at his respective position with 7 INT's and 88 return yards after the pick. The Niners may possibly need to draft a CB in the later rounds. Udell could be worth scouting and if he steps up in this big game, it won't go un-noticed by the scouts in attendance.
At 6'1" 204 this safety presents multiple problems for QB's as well. He has 4 INT's this year with 77 yards in return yards. He has 55 tackles in the season as well and isn;t afraid to come up and give someone a pop!
On the other side of Brown, Kellem makes it just as difficult for QB's to be successful in the air. He has 3 INT's on the year. 8 career INT's and 170 career tackles. Another safety to watch during the game.
Led by Coach:
Rick Stockstill (4th year, 26-23)
WHEN: 8:30 PM ET, 5:30 PST
WHERE: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
TV: ESPN & ESPN HD (Dave Lamont will do play-by-play, with J.C. Pearson as the analyst).
THE LINE: Southern Miss by 3.5.