Hawaii Bowl Matchup – Wolf Pack vs Golden Eagles
One team in the 2011 Hawaii Bowl has already won a conference championship and accomplished a foremost goal. The true point of intrigue in this contest is if the other team – the one that shockingly lost its conference title late in the season – will find enough inspiration to play at its very best.
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Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (11-2)
Time/Date: 8:05 p.m. Eastern, December 24
Venue/Stadium: Aloha Stadium
It’s not as though the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles don’t want to win this Christmas Eve contest, but when kickoff time arrives at Aloha Stadium on the island of Oahu, it’s the roster from Reno which will want to put the regular season in the rearview mirror.
Southern Mississippi enters the Hawaii Bowl feeling fat and happy. For the first time since 2003, the Golden Eagles managed to win Conference USA. They demolished the Houston Cougars by three touchdowns on Dec. 3, blotting out the pair of stumbles which cast a pall over their first 12 regular-season games. USM had stubbed its toe against Marshall and UAB earlier in the season, missing out on a BCS bowl when the opportunity was there.
The loss to UAB, given that it occurred in week 12 of the season, hit hard for coach Larry Fedora’s team. The immensely disappointing performance against an inferior foe deprived the Golden Eagles of a possible ticket to the Sugar Bowl (it would have made the C-USA title game against Houston a Sugar Bowl play-in game).
However, the 21-point takedown of Houston and the conference crown which accompanied it will allow Southern Miss to enter the upcoming offseason without any appreciable lack of fulfillment.
A conference championship is the goal which this program has been chasing. Now that it’s been attained, the pressure is off in Hawaii.
Nevada was supposed to have claimed the conference title Southern Miss wound up winning. The Wolf Pack was pasting Louisiana Tech, 20-3, in the fourth quarter of a make-or-break battle on Nov. 19. It seemed that it was just a matter of time before coach Chris Ault’s club would knock off its one remaining contender en route to the Western Athletic Conference throne.
Nevada stood less than 15 minutes away from defending its 2010 co-championship in the WAC, shared with Boise State and Hawaii.
Despite losing star players from its 2010 offense – chiefly quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua – Nevada had used a strong, vigorous defense to gain the upper hand against Louisiana Tech and, for that matter, the rest of the WAC.
Then, the house fell down. Louisiana Tech, seemingly out of nowhere, scored three touchdowns and produced three straight defensive stands to pull off a 24-20 upset. Nevada went from being the outright champion of the WAC to a devastated loser.
This stunning defeat has left the Pack heartbroken, but it also means that Nevada has unfinished business to tend to in Hawaii. This game gives the Wolf Pack a chance to redeem themselves… on the night before Christmas, no less.
However, Southern Miss has too many weapons and too much confidence for the Wolf Pack to handle. Take the Golden Eagles.
Pick: Southern Mississippi
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