Papajohns.com Bowl

Papajohns.com Bowl

2007 Papajohns.com Bowl Preview

Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)

Conference Matchup: Conference USA vs. Big East

Dec. 22, 2007 - 1 p.m. EST on ESPN2 HD
Location: Birmingham, AL
Spread: Cincinnati -11

Southern Miss can cover if they can figure out how to slow down the 23rd-ranked passing attack that Cincinnati will bring at them, which averages 282.2 yards per game. Senior defensive back Brandon Sumrall is tied for 23rd in the country with five interceptions per game, and he will need to make Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk pay for a mistake. Cincinnati is ranked No. 14 in scoring, averaging 36.8 points per game. When the Bearcats score more than 30, they are 7-0 and only 2-3 when they don't. If the Golden Eagles can keep Cincinnati's offense off of the field and thus out of the endzone, they will have a chance. Southern Miss can do that through the running game, as they average over 200 yards on the ground. But this will be difficult since Cincinnati's defense only gives up about 105 rushing yards per game. If Southern Miss can manage to hold the ball, chew the clock and gain yards, they could find themselves victorious. And if none of this works? Call Pat White and Steve Slaton at halftime and tell them to suit up. The West Virginia tandem racked up over 250 yards on the ground by themselves in their win over Cincinnati.

Cincinnati can cover if QB Ben Mauk continues his solid play. The 6'1" senior is being held together by screws, metal plates and other pieces of renovated Nippert Stadium after he broke the humerus in his throwing arm last season. In spite of the setback, he has had a good year, with a 61.4 completion percentage and a touchdown to interception ratio of 27-to-6. Mauk will need his offense to be explosive, and put points on the board early. In their seven wins, the Golden Eagles are giving up an average of only 16 points as compared to 34.2 in their five losses. Cincinnati also needs to continue their success on defense in terms of forcing turnovers. As one of the nation's best in that department, the Bearcats will have to take a couple away to put this game far enough out of reach. Lastly, this Southern Miss team is similar to a Connecticut team that they faced earlier this season. Both like to run the ball and average almost identical yards per game through the air. Cincinnati made a balanced UConn team look bad, stopping the run and picking off a pass, as the Huskies were held to only 22 yards on the ground. That is the same formula they need here. The longer Southern Miss holds on to the football and is able to run against this defense, the more this game will turn towards the Golden Eagles.

General notes: Their last meeting was in November of 2004, where Cincinnati destroyed Southern Miss, 52-24. The Bearcats are 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 games, as they placed third in the Big East and finished with a 4-3 conference record. Southern Miss finished fourth in Conference USA's East Division, which is a much weaker conference than the Big East. Cincinnati's strength of schedule is 49th in the country while Southern Miss' is 101st. Birmingham is only about a three and a half hour drive from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, while Cincinnati is almost 500 miles away. In a close game, the crowd could favor the underdog Golden Eagles. Lastly, Southern Miss' head coach Jeff Bower will coach his last game for the Golden Eagles, as he recently resigned. This may be an emotional day for Bower, having been on the sidelines in Hattiesburg for 17 years as head coach. What's more is that some say he wanted to remain, but was forced out. This news could motivate his players to play an inspired game, but a potent Cincinnati offense could have other ideas.

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Papajohns.com Bowl preview: Cincinnati vs. Southern Mississippi
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Papajohns.com Bowl
Teams: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Date: Saturday, Dec. 22, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Line: Cincinnati -11, Total 56 points

The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles will be in familiar territory when they play the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The Golden Eagles have already recorded a lopsided win on Legion Field this season. They will also be led by a familiar face for the last time.

Southern Miss became accustomed to bowl appearances under head coach Jeff Bower during his 17-year tenure. The Papajohns.com Bowl will mark Bower’s final game on the Golden Eagles’ sideline, as has resigned his position.

A trio of home losses during the Conference-USA schedule marred Bower’s final season. The upset losses also prevented Southern Mississippi from capturing the C-USA East crown it was heavily favored to win.  The Golden Eagles went 4-0 in conference games away from Hattiesburg, including a 37-7 win over UAB at Legion Field.

The Golden Eagles excel on the ground, led by running back Damion Fletcher. The sophomore accumulated 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns and was happy to take on an increased workload as the season progressed. The return to health of quarterback Jeremy Young makes Southern Mississippi’s ground attack more dangerous.

However, Bower’s Golden Eagles have excelled in recent years due to their defense. This season was no exception, as they topped C-USA in both points allowed and total defense.

Cincinnati brings a strong defense of its own to Birmingham. The Bearcats shut many opponents down during their eye-opening 2006 campaign, and the defense stayed the course this season. The school’s improvement to 9-3 this season was largely due to an offensive revival under new head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn.

Kelly and Quinn previously coached at Central Michigan where they turned the Chippewas into the Mid-American Conference’s top offensive power. Kelly made his Cincinnati debut last January during a win at the International Bowl. However, he and Quinn truly made the Bearcats’ offense their own over the ensuing offseason.

After Kelly and Quinn inserted Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk at quarterback, Cincinnati scored at will. The Bearcats averaged 36.8 points per game this season, a huge increase over last year’s 21.1 points.

Mauk topped the Big East with a 154.6 quarterback rating, a major accomplishment considering he is in the same conference as Louisville’s Brian Brohm and West Virginia’s Pat White.

The Bearcats not only play in a more ballyhooed conference than Southern Mississippi, they also bring a superior record to Birmingham. However, the Golden Eagles have the potential to take down bigger opponents. They could live up to that potential and send off their respected coach with a win.

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PapaJohns.com Bowl preview
By: M.Fargo 

PapaJohns.com Bowl – Dec. 22, 2007

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 7-5 SU, 5-6 ATS

Cincinnati Bearcats 9-3 SU, 8-2-1 ATS

Storyline


Southern Mississippi will be playing its 10th bowl game in 11 years under head coach Jeff Bower, who announced two weeks ago that he is stepping down after 17 years leading the Golden Eagles. This season was a big disappointment. They came in as the favorites to win the C-USA East only to find themselves in fourth place at the end. Southern Mississippi won five of its final seven games to become bowl eligible but, surprisingly, those two losses came at home.

Cincinnati quietly put together a great season, going 9-3 with the three losses coming by a combined 16 points. Most of the wins were big; only two of the nine victories were by fewer than 21 points. So what are the Bearcats doing in the PapaJohns.com Bowl? Good question. Cincinnati could come out flat thinking they should be elsewhere instead of playing three days before Christmas. However, head coach Brian Kelly is a great motivator. That's why his name is coming up in the Michigan vacancy talks.

Why Southern Mississippi will cover

This team will be highly motivated to send Bower out with what would be the fouth straight bowl victory for the Golden Eagles. While the season can be considered a disappointment, a lot of the troubles were due to injuries at quarterback. Now that Jeremy Young is healthy, the Golden Eagles have some consistency on their side. The rushing offense carried the team as they finished 22nd in the country. The ground game was led by Damion Fletcher who finished 14th in the nation with 119.3 yards per game.

The passing game will be getting another weapon back as senior receiver Chris Johnson will be see action for the first time since breaking his right arm at Marshall on Oct. 21. This could greatly benefit the Golden Eagles considering that Cincinnati finished 105th in the country in passing defense. On the flip side, Southern Mississippi once again had a solid defense. Although it wasn’t as good as past units, it did a decent enough job to take the pressure off the offense.

Why Cincinnati will cover

Cincinnati cannot be feeling sorry for itself. The goal was to reach the Sun Bowl, which went to South Florida, or the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which went to Connecticut. But a bowl is a bowl and the Bearcats know it is still important for the program to take that next step. Cincinnati will be looking to win its 10th game for just the second time in school history, and first time since 1951. The Bearcats finished 14th in scoring offense so this team is capable of putting up a lot of points to cover the big number.

The goal is to stop the Golden Eagles' running attack. Cincinnati has the ability as it finished 15th in the nation in rushing defense. Pittsburgh put up 260 yards and West Virginia put up 295 yards, but no other FCS team was able to crack the 100-yard barrier. As good as the scoring offense was, the scoring defense was even better, finishing 11th in the country by allowing just 18.6 points per game. The Bearcats also took care of the ball, finishing third in the nation in turnover margin at +1.42 per game.

Notable trends

**Southern Mississippi is 0-6 ATS as an underdog over the last two seasons.

**Cincinnati is 12-2 ATS after one or more consecutive ATS wins over the last two seasons.

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Two teams on a mission meet in PapaJohns.com Bowl

The Cincinnati Bearcats felt snubbed.

They finished 9-3 on the season and ranked in the Top 25 and yet the Meineke Car Care Bowl passed on selecting the Bearcats in favor of Connecticut leaving Cincinnati for the PapaJohns.com Bowl where they will meet Southern Miss of Conference USA in Birmingham Saturday with kickoff set for 1 p.m. Eastern time.

The reason for choosing UConn over UC was — reportedly — the Bowl people at Charlotte didn't believe Cincinnati would bring as many fans. That didn't set well with the Bearcats. Not that they weren't happy about the PapaJohns.com Bowl, but because of the impression that Bearcat fans wouldn't follow their team.

"I am excited for our program to be going to bowl games in back-to-back years," said head coach Brian Kelly when Cincinnati accepted the bid. "After a 9-3 season, this group deserves an opportunity to play one more game. I am happy to be going to Birmingham. We have a shot at 10 wins and to make our mark in UC history."

Bearcat quarterback Ben Mauk went even further. "We're excited as a team to try to get 10 wins," he said. "Bowl game are going to be something very common here in Cincinnati in the future. We're going to put on a show and represent the city and the University of Cincinnati the best we can."

Mauk, who finished ninth in the nation in passing efficiency, completed 205 of 334 passes for 2,787 yards and 27 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Production didn't fall off when backup Dustin Grutza was also outstanding. He was 39-of-55 for 432 yards and four touchdowns and was not intercepted.

Butler Benton, Greg Moore and Jacob Ramsey handled the bulk of the Cincinnati ground attack. Benton rushed for 499 yards on 99 carries and scored two touchdowns. Moore finished with 432 yards and two scores on 83 attempts and Ramsey carried 90 times for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

Marcus Bennett was the touchdown maker in the receiving corps with 13 touchdowns among his 60 catches for 845 yards. Dominick Goodman had 61 catches for 774 yards and six scores. Six other receivers topped 100 yards and eight others had touchdown catches.

Defensively, Haruki Nakamura led the Bearcats in tackles with 86. Mike Mickens led the team with six interceptions while Anthony Hoke led the team with 12 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

Southern Miss comes into the game with a subplot of its own. The Golden Eagles will be coached by Jeff Bower for the final time. After 17 years at Southern Miss, Bower is stepping down. Bower, Conference USA's Coach of the Decade for the league's first 10 years and Coach of the Year in 1997, 1999 and 2003, is 119-82-1 and has taken the Golden Eagles to bowl games in 10 of the past 11 seasons. Only Penn State's Joe Paterno, FSU's Bobby Bowden and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer currently have longer tenures at their jobs than Bower.

This was Southern Miss' 14th consecutive winning season, a streak that is surpassed by only four other teams nationally—Florida State (31 seasons), Michigan (23), Florida (20) and Virginia Tech (15).

Damion Fletcher, the nation's 13th leading rusher, leads the Golden Eagles. Fletcher, one of only three Southern Miss players to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, rushed for 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns on 266 caries. He topped 100 yards in eight games on the season and now has 2,819 yards in his career.

The Golden Eagles bring a two-headed quarterback threat into the game with Jeremy Young and Stephen Reaves. Young finished the season 102-of-192 for 1,342 yards and nine touchdowns, but when he was injured Reaves stepped in and hit 95-of-151 for 943 yards and three touchdowns.

Torris Magee was the primary target for the Southern Miss quarterbacks. He caught 42 passes for 617 yards and three touchdowns while Chris Johnson added 32 catches for 405 yards and two touchdowns while Shawn Nelson caught 30 passes for 433 yards and four scores. Gerald Baptiste added 27 grabs for 283 yards while Fletcher had 22 receptions for 177 yards.

Sophomore linebacker Gerald McRath led the Golden Eagles with 131 tackles, good for 11th in the nation. He had 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Brandon Sumrall added 91 tackles and led the team with five interceptions. Martavius Prince led the team with 6.5 sacks and Matthew Chatelain had 13 tackles for loss, tops on the team.

Both teams have strong motivation entering the game, but Cincinnati appears to be the best team overall.


Our pick: Cincinnati 28, Southern Miss 10

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Papajohns.com Bowl Preview
By Chris David

Papajohns.com Bowl

Southern Mississippi (7-5 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Cincinnati (9-3 SU, 8-2 ATS)

How they got there:

Southern Mississippi finished in fourth place of Conference USA's East Division. The Golden Eagles won three of their final four games, two coming by double digits. Southern Miss hasn't performed well against better competition, evidenced by a 1-4 record both SU and ATS versus bowl teams.

Cincinnati finished third in the Big East under first-year head coach Brian Kelly. The Bearcats' record could've been much better, considering their three losses were by four, seven and five points. Kelly earned Big East Coach of the Year honors during his first season with the Bearcats and just recently inked a five-year extension with Cincy. The Bearcats are 4-1 SU and 4-0 ATS versus bowl teams this year.

What to expect:

This matchup renews an old Conference USA rivalry between the two schools. The all-time series between Cincinnati and Southern Mississippi is locked up at 7-7, with the last meeting coming in 2004 when the Bearcats notched a 52-24 blowout road victory over the Golden Eagles.

The college football bowl season has 32 games slated and only five of those matchups have the favorite laying double-digits, with Cincinnati being one of them.

Cincinnati's game plan is simple - use Brian Kelly's Cat Attack to post points in a hurry and then use an opportunistic defense (+17 turnover margin) to force Southern Miss into mistakes.

Southern Mississippi is more one-dimensional on offense with its running game and will need to play a perfect game to stay close. The school has been known for being a defensive stopper in the past, but this unit has given up 29 points or more on six occasions this year. They went 1-5 in those contests.

Emotions could be the only edge that the Golden Eagles own in this matchup, with players expected to put forth a solid performance for head coach Jeff Bower, who was recently forced to resign at Southern Miss.

Players to Watch:

Southern Miss goes as running back Damion Fletcher goes. The sophomore has racked up 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. His backup Tory Harrison (386 yards, 5 TDs) has been capable to bust out as well. Quarterback Jeremy Young (1,342 yards) is only completing 53 percent of his passes on the seasons and can be described as hit or miss. Fortunately, Young and the Eagles are expected to get wide receiver Chris Johnson (32 catches, 405 yards) back to the lineup after he broke his arm earlier in the year. Defensively, cornerback Brandon Sumrall (five interceptions) has been a shut-down corner for his squad.

Cincinnati's high-powered offense is led by quarterback Ben Mauk (2,787 yards, 27 TDs). The senior has connected on 61 percent of his passes, plus he has shown his athleticism with 335 rushing yards and three scores. Mauk often looks to the dangerous duo of Marcus Barnett (60 receptions, 845 yards, 13 TDs) and Dominick Goodman (774 yards, 6 TDs) on the outside. Don't be surprised to see defensive back and future NFL prospect Mike Mickens (30 tackles, 6 INTs, 2 TDs) making a play on Saturday.

Bowl Records:

Southern Miss owns an 8-7 all-time record in bowl games and has strung together three consecutive victories entering this matchup. The team is 2-1 ATS during this run, but the three victories came against two Sun Belt schools and an inferior Mid-American opponent (Ohio). CUSA was 1-4 in bowl games last season.

Cincinnati has posted back-to-back bowl victories and is 4-4 all-time in postseason play. Last year, the Big East was an incredible 5-0 both SU and ATS in bowl games.

Bowl History:

This is the second year in a row that the PapaJohns.com bowl game will be played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. USF gave the Big East braggin' rights by easily handling East Carolina last year in a defensive battle.

Inside the Line:

Cincinnati has fared well as a double-digit favorite this season, going 3-1 both SU and ATS.

Gamblers have enjoyed backing both the Golden Eagles (4-2 SU, 4-2 ATS) and Bearcats (5-1 SU, 5-1 ATS) on the road this year.

According to VI Handicapper Marc Lawrence and his Playbook New Letter, double-digit favorites prior to New Year's Day are just 12-26-3 ATS (31%).

Total players should know that both So. Miss (31.5 PPG) and Cincinnati (39 PPG) have been very strong offensively on the road, which has helped the 'over'. The Golden Eagles (4-1) and Bearcats (4-1-1) have both cashed 'over' tickets this year more often than not.

Expert Opinion: - Christian Alexander

As you might guess from the spread, this game doesn't set up particularly well for Southern Miss, both on and off the field.

First, the off the field distractions. The Golden Eagles find themselves in unfamiliar territory heading into this bowl game as the program is about to go through a coaching change. Jeff Bower, who ironically coached his first game as USM's head coach in the 1990 Birmingham-based All-American Bowl, now returns to Birmingham to coach his last game at Southern Miss after 17 years, including 14 consecutive winning seasons. Bower resigned effective the end of the season.

The Southern Miss offense is largely built around running back Fletcher. However, if Fletcher can't get on track then the Golden Eagles are usually in trouble and that's bad news against a strong Cincy defense.

The Eagles have a strong defense - something that has always been their calling card but they face an offense that hasn't been slowed down much this season. The one edge I would give So. Miss is that the school is very long on bowl experience, earning trips 10 of the past 11 years.

VI Prediction:

Personally, I don't like to lay double digits but I can't make any case for the 'dog in this spot unless you want to play the emotional angle for Bower. While Bower has proven himself time and time again in Hattiesburg, he's not lining up on the field.

The Golden Eagles' passing game is ranked 90th in the country, which means Cincy is going to stack the line and force Jeremy Young to beat them. The Bearcats own the 10th best pass rush (38 sacks) in the country, plus they create turnovers left and right. Southern Miss needs to play its best game of the season and even then, I still don't believe they have the personnel to compete with Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is a legit team with serious talent on both sides of the ball. I wouldn't suggest putting your entire bankroll on the game, but don't be afraid of the line here. I'm not a big fan of teasers, but this looks automatic play as an early leg of a potential three-team wager.

Final Score: Cincinnati 38 Southern Miss 13

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Papajohns.com Bowl: Southern Miss Eagles vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati aims to finish a terrific 9-3 season with a Papajohns.com Bowl victory over Southern Mississippi. The Bearcats were International Bowl victors last season and boast a 7-4 ATS mark heading into this game at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. The Golden Eagles were just 5-6 ATS on the year.

Southern Mississippi was anything but golden in their 16-10 win over the Arkansas State Indians last time out. Southern Mississippi could not cover the 14-point spread in the win, and the 26 points were well UNDER the posted total of 55.5.

Damion Fletcher carried the ball 27 times for 132 yards and a touchdown in that contest.

Cincinnati racked up 544 yards last time out in a 52-31 win at Syracuse, failing to cover the 22.5-point road spread. The 83 points scored were OVER the posted total of 53.

Ben Mauk went 29-for-42 for 431 yards and four touchdowns, and Marcus Barnett had 11 receptions for 127 yards and three scores for the Bearcats.

Team records:
Southern Miss: 7-5 SU, 5-6 ATS
Cincinnati: 9-3 SU, 7-4 ATS

Southern Miss most recently:
When playing in December are 4-6
When playing on turf are 6-4
After being outgained are 6-4
When playing outside the conference are 6-4

Cincinnati most recently:
When playing in December are 4-3
When playing on turf are 8-2
After outgaining opponent are 7-3
When playing outside the conference are 8-2

A few trends to consider:
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Southern Miss's last 5 games
Southern Miss is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games
Southern Miss is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing Cincinnati
Southern Miss is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games when playing Cincinnati
Cincinnati is 12-3 SU in its last 15 games
Cincinnati is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games when playing Southern Miss
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Cincinnati's last 7 games
Cincinnati is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games

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Game Preview for Southern Miss vs Cincinnati

GAME NOTES: Former Conference USA foes meet in the second annual Papajohns.com Bowl, as the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles tangle with the 20th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats at Legion Field. The Eagles finished the regular season with a 7-5 mark and that solidified their 14th straight winning campaign, a feat accomplished by only four other schools at this level. All this success has come under the guidance of 17-year head coach Jeff Bower, who resigned in late November, but will still coach the team in this game. Bower has accumulated a 119-82-1 record at the helm of this program and this is USM's six straight bowl appearance and its 10th in the last 11 years. Overall, the Eagles are making their 18th appearance in a bowl game, where they have gone 8-9, including three straight wins. As for Cincinnati, it is in the midst of one of its finest seasons ever, bringing a 9-3 mark into this outing. The Bearcats knocked off three teams in the Top 25 this year and they are just one victory shy of equaling the school record for wins in a season. Cincinnati is also attempting to end a season in the Top 25 for the first time in the program's 120-year history. This is the Bearcats' sixth bowl appearance in the past eight years and their 10th overall. Cincinnati owns a 5-4 record all-time in bowl games and that includes a 27-24 triumph over Western Michigan in the International Bowl last season. As for the all-time series, it is knotted at 7-7 between these two teams that use to be C-USA rivals. The last meeting between Cincinnati, now part of the Big East, and USM, current member of C-USA, came in 2004, with the Bearcats cruising to a 52-24 triumph in Hattiesburg.

The Golden Eagles possess a balanced attack that has them averaging 193.6 ypg through the air and an even better 200.3 ypg on the ground. The nearly identical passing and rushing yards has the team averaging a solid 28.3 ppg. Leading the charge for USM is tailback Damion Fletcher, who has rushed for 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. The talented sophomore, who also went over 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie campaign, is averaging a solid 5.4 yards per carry. Quarterback Jeremy Young missed a few games due to injury this season and he may not be the most explosive player, but he does do a good job in managing the offense. For the season, Young has thrown for 1,342 yards and nine scores, in addition to rushing for 294 yards and three more touchdowns. Torris Magee has been one of his favorite targets and he leads the team in catches (42) and receiving yards (617) to go along with three touchdowns.

Defensively, USM has done a respectable job this season, holding its foes to 23.6 ppg and 363.2 total ypg. The unit hasn't been dominant against the run (139.6 ypg) or pass (223.6 ypg), but it has fared well in creating turnovers, forcing 24. The defense has come up with 14 interceptions and that has helped compensate for the 20 passing touchdowns it has surrendered. The Eagles have also done a decent job in getting to opposing quarterbacks, recording 25 sacks thus far. Gerald McRath is the team's most decorated player on this side of the ball and he leads USM with an impressive 131 tackles. He also has 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks to his credit. Brandon Sumrall is another player worth noting, as he ranks first in interceptions (five) and second in tackles (91).

Cincinnati has had a lot of success moving the ball and scoring points this season and it is currently averaging 36.8 ppg behind 436.4 total ypg. The offense has done a good job in rushing for 154.2 ypg, but is has thrived through the air, passing for 282.2 ypg. Quarterback Ben Mauk has put together a simply tremendous campaign for the Bearcats and he has completed 61.4 percent of his tosses for 2,787 yards. The accurate gunslinger has thrown for 27 touchdowns against a mere six interceptions, and he is also dangerous with his legs, rushing for 336 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Barnett has certainly benefited from Mauk's success, as the talented wideout leads the club with 845 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Dominick Goodman is another outlet Mauk has utilized this season, and he leads the team in catches (61) to go with 774 receiving yards and six scores. In the backfield, Cincinnati doesn't rely on any one particular player to carry the load, as Butler Benton (499 rushing yards), Greg Moore (432) and Jacob Ramsey (353) have all seen a significant amount of carries.

On defense, the Bearcats have thrived on making big plays this season, and they have forced an impressive 39 turnovers, including 23 via interception. It doesn't end their either, as the Cincinnati has also notched 38 sacks to help compensate for the 370.7 total ypg it is allowing. The team's ability to create big plays and limit opposing ground attacks to a mere 105.7 ypg helps to explain how Cincinnati has been able to hold its foes to only 18.6 ppg. Anthony Hoke has played a big part in the team's ability to get into the backfield, as he leads the squad with 12 sacks and 15.5 TFLs. Mike Mickens leads the secondary with six interceptions, while Haruki Nakamura paces the club with 86 tackles to go along with four picks and three forced fumbles.

Cincinnati is simply the better team on both sides of the ball, and behind the accurate arm of Mauk and the big play capability of the defense, it should come out on top in this one.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 31, Southern Mississippi 17

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Cincinnati flies higher than the Eagles at Papajohns
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The two teams in this year’s Papajohns.com Bowl were conference rivals as recently as 2004, but they just aren’t in the same league anymore.

The Cincinnati Bearcats are 10 ½-point favorites over the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, showing their drastic improvement since jumping from C-USA to the Big East in 2005.

Home games at Nippert Stadium often sell out now. The school hired Brian Kelly, a rising star in the coaching ranks, away from Central Michigan last year and just signed him to a five-year extension. Cincinnati is building new football facilities and all its assistants are getting raises at the same time as the head coach.

Kelly converted the Bearcats into an offensive dynamo, leading them to a 9-3 regular season record and a spot in the national polls. Cincy gave its biggest foes all sorts of trouble, going 4-1 straight up (SU) and 5-0 against the spread (ATS) against its five bowl-bound opponents.

Southern Miss, on the other hand, remained in C-USA. Traditionally a conference power, the Golden Eagles had a disappointing season that led to the departure of head coach Jeff Bower. He’ll man the sidelines one last time in his 17-year head coaching career at Southern Miss before Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora takes the reins.

The Golden Eagles, then, are understandably in a state of flux. Can the school count on its recruits to stick to their commitments if Bower is no longer at the helm? Are Bower’s assistants spending time prepping for the Bearcats or dusting off their resumes, unsure of their job security? Are the returning players pumped for the Papajohns.com Bowl or are they worried about their roles under next year’s regime?

The players are saying exactly what you’d expect to hear at this point – that they want to give Bower a proper send-off, that they’re motivated by predictions that this game will be a blowout, etc.

But Southern Mississippi might not have the fire power to back up its words.

Oddmakers certainly didn’t think so, sending the Eagles out as a double-digit underdog. And I’m struggling to find reasons to take Southern Miss with the points.

The Golden Eagles, like the Bearcats, also faced five opponents that advanced to bowl games this year. Unlike Cincy, though, Southern Miss stumbled against its quality foes, going 1-4 both SU and ATS.

In an indictment of Southern Miss’ offense, the Golden Eagles didn’t crack 20 points against any of its three non-conference schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Southern Miss relies on the run to put points on the board, bad news against a Cincinnati defense which held nine of 12 opponents under 100 rushing yards.

Cincinnati also wins turnover battles. The Bearcats caused 39 turnovers this season, second in the nation, largely thanks to their 23 interceptions. Their +1.42 turnover ratio was tied for third in the country.

Offensively, the Bearcats’ balanced attack racked up at least 358 total yards against all but one of their opponents this season. The sole exception was their Week 2 win over Oregon State when defense and special teams were enough to provide a 34-3 win over the Beavers.

Cincinnati was a strong football team this season and likely deserved a more prestigious bowl game. That’s never a great thing to say about a double-digit favorite. But Kelly was instructed to make Cincinnati a Top 20 football school when he took the Bearcats’ job and he has done just that.

Southern Miss and Cincinnati have a 7-7 historical record, but times have changed. These schools are no longer on equal footing and Saturday’s hefty spread is justified.

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PAPAJOHNS.COM BOWL (at Birmingham, Ala.)

Southern Miss (7-5, 5-6 ATS) vs. (20) Cincinnati (9-3, 9-2 ATS)


Southern Miss makes the short trek to Birmingham, Ala., to battle upstart Cincinnati, which jumped out to a 6-0 mark this season and at one point was on track for a BCS bowl appearance.

Southern Miss closed the regular season on a 3-1 run (2-2 ATS), including edging Arkansas State 16-10 in the finale on Nov. 24, failing to cover as a 14½-point home chalk. RB Damion Fletcher had 27 carries for 133 yards and a TD in the victory over Arkansas State, capping a solid regular season in which he rushed for 1,394 yards (5.5 per carry) and 15 TDs.

Like the Golden Eagles, Cincinnati comes into this contest on a 3-1 surge (4-0 ATS), including a 52-31 rout of Syracuse on Nov. 24, barely covering as a 20-point road favorite. QB Benjamin Mauk went haywire versus the Orange, completing 29 of 42 passes for 431 yards and four TDs, with no INTs. Mauk enters this contest with 2,787 passing yards and 27 TDs.

The Golden Eagles, who have already replaced coach Jeff Bower but will allow him to finish out this season, have won three consecutive bowl games, including a 28-7 rout of Ohio as a 6½-point chalk in last year’s GMAC Bowl. However, they are just 3-5 ATS in their last eight postseason appearances.

Southern Miss is 7-1 ATS following a game in which it failed to cover the spread. However, the Eagles are 0-7 ATS in their last seven as an underdog (0-2 this year) and 1-6 ATS in their last seven following a SU victory.

The Bearcats, who were tripped up by Louisville and Pittsburgh after starting 6-0, are 5-2 ATS as double-digit favorites (3-1 ATS in that role this year), and they went 5-1 ATS on the highway this season. Cincinnati is on further positive ATS runs of 4-0 in non-conference games, 5-0 against teams with a winning record and 7-1 following a SU win. On the downside, they are just 1-4 ATS in their last five bowl appearances.

Southern Miss features a balanced offense, averaging a stout 200.3 yards rushing and 193.6 passing. Cincy is also strong in both categories, averaging 282.2 passing and 154.2 rushing yards per outing.

The Bearcats ranked 11th in the nation in scoring defense (18.6 points per game), and the defense forced 39 turnovers, the second-best total in the nation.

ATS ADVANTAGE: CINCINNATI

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