2010 St. Pete Bowl Preview - Louis. vs. USM

Posted Dec 17, 2010

2010-2011 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2010 Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl - Louisville vs. Southern Miss

2010 Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg

(6-6) vs. So. Miss (8-4)

Tuesday, December 21st, 8:00 ESPN  

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Pick ATS: Louisville   Confidence Score: 17
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 5 out of 35
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom for all the CFNers' confidence picks and bowl history
By Richard Cirminiello

Charlie Strong did in his debut what Steve Kragthorpe couldn't in three years—guide Louisville to the postseason.

Neither the venue nor the payout matter to the Cardinals at this stage of their rebuilding. A bowl game—any bowl game—qualifies as a step in the right direction. So will the 15 additional practices that Strong and his staff get to further evaluate and coach up those players with remaining eligibility. The Beef O' Brady's Bowl, as inconsequential as it may be to most folks, is a really big deal for a Louisville program that was picked to finish in the Big East cellar this season. And a potential launching point for a team that had a high ceiling not long ago, when Bobby Petrino was still on campus.

National Rankings
UofL   USM
65th Total
12th Total
71st Scoring
15th Scoring
30th Rushing
52nd Rushing
79th Passing
9th Passing
39th Turnover
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
UofL   USM
2.5 QBs 4
4.5 RBs 3.5
3 WRs 4
4 O Line 4
4 D Line 3.5
4 LBs 3
4.5 DBs 2
4.5 STs 3
4 Coach 3
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon

The Cardinals began 2010 slowly before gradually becoming more competitive as the season progressed. On Oct. 23, they shut out Connecticut, which would go on to win the conference and earn a Fiesta Bowl berth. Two weeks later, they knocked off a hot team from Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The postseason clincher came in the regular season finale at Rutgers, a resounding 40-13 blowout on the road. Through it all, Louisville started taking on the personality of its coach, playing with more physicality and aggressiveness on defense, while relying on a north-south running game on offense. It's resulted in a faster-than-expected change in culture and expectations.

Southern Miss is back in familiar territory, capping a successful season with an appearance in the postseason. The Golden Eagles have extended their streak of 17 straight winning seasons, while qualifying for a bowl game in 13 of the last 14 years. A model of consistency, the program still feels a little unfulfilled after failing to capture Conference USA or even the East Division with a team that returned so much veteran talent on both sides of the ball. Adding to the frustration was the fact that the Eagles handled East winner UCF and preseason West favorite Houston in November. Those wins, though, were offset by October losses to East Carolina and UAB in Hattiesburg, landing the school a December trip to St. Petersburg.

While Larry Fedora has raised the excitement level at Southern Miss with one of the nation's best offenses, the defense was a major letdown, allowing more than 40 points on five separate occasions. The attack was potent, but too often was offset by a D that was unable to stop the pass. Adding to the frustration was the physical and emotional toll that came with the November off-campus shootings of defensive lineman Deddrick Jones and linebackers Martez Smith and Tim Green. Smith, tragically, had his spinal cord severed and is paralyzed from the waist down.

Louisville and Southern Miss share a past, playing in the same conference from 1996-2004. They've got a future as well, with next fall's scheduled meeting. The present has the Cardinals and Golden Eagles meeting at Tropicana Field, looking to close out up-and-down seasons on a high note.

Players to Watch: Senior RB Bilal Powell was a godsend for Strong and the entire Louisville offense this season. A spare part over the last three seasons, he emerged as one of the nation's most prolific backs, rushing for 120 yards a game and scoring 13 times. Had it not been for an injury in the second half of the year, he could have been up for national honors and a much bigger spotlight. He's a physical runner with explosive tendencies, averaging well over six yards a carry and going for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games. With almost a month to rest his injured right knee, he ought to be at full strength and ready to handle a 30-carry load.

Powell's roadblock to success? A Southern Miss defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run, allowing 113 yards a game and only 3.6 yards a carry. The rock of that unit is junior Korey Williams, the next in a growing line of next-level Golden Eagle linebackers. He leads the team with 80 tackles and 11 stops for loss, filling the hole quickly and showing the wrap-up skills to prevent yards after contact. He'll have his sights fixed on Powell all night, a game-within-the-game that'll go a long way to deciding the outcome of this one.

On offense, the Golden Eagles have playmakers at every unit. QB Austin Davis has accounted for 28 touchdowns, including 10 on the ground. Redshirt freshman Kendrick Hardy has emerged as one of Conference USA's best young backs, rushing for than 100 yards three times in the second half of the year. And a seasoned corps of receivers got a big boost when junior-college transfer Kelvin Bolden developed into Davis' go-to guy. If oft-injured star DeAndre Brown can play without incident, a rarity in 2010, an undersized collection of Louisville defensive backs is really going to have its hands full patrolling the passing lanes.

Strong's biggest impact in his first year has been on defense, where Louisville has overachieved with a marginal group of players. There isn't a lot of star power or next-level types on the roster, yet the Cardinals rank no lower than 15th nationally in pass defense, scoring defense, total D, and sacks. Only two players, CB Johnny Patrick and S Hakeem Smith, earned All-Big East honors, an indication of the unit's collaborative, no-name persona. Smith was named conference rookie of the year, making a team-high 80 tackles, and Patrick has five picks. LB Daniel Brown is another playmaker who's come to exemplify the defense's aggressive style, using his speed and agility to rack up 11 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Louisville will win if ... QB Adam Froman plays … and plays well.

The senior was performing efficiently when he suffered a deep thigh bruise in the Oct. 30 loss to Pitt, and never took another snap. He's expected to play in the bowl game, where a fair amount of rust will need to be shaken off. The best way to attack the Southern Miss defense is through the air, challenging a flimsy secondary that ranked 103rd nationally against the pass and gave up 26 touchdown passes. Froman, or his backup Justin Burke, cannot squander this opportunity. He'll have to loosen up the Golden Eagle defense, preventing it from stacking the box to stop Powell in his tracks. The Cardinals had five different players catch at least three touchdown passes, and it'll be up to Froman to get TE Cameron Graham and WR Josh Bellamy involved as valuable complements to the ground game.

Southern Miss will win if ...  it continues to operate with balance.

When the Golden Eagles were successful this season, it was almost always because of the play of the diverse offense. They averaged more than 200 yards on the ground and through the air, the biggest hurdle for opposing defenses. Strong has a month to prepare, but what exactly is he preparing for? If he concentrates on stopping the pass, Hardy and Desmond Johnson will hurt him with big gains on the ground. And if the running game is the focus, Davis can play catch all day with his receivers. If everything breaks down, the quarterback will gladly tuck it and run, scrambling for 436 yards. If Southern Miss can turn this one into a track meet, it'll force Louisville out of its element and into a game it'll struggle to win.

What will happen: In a match up of opposing strategies, Louisville will impose its will on Southern Miss, winning with the better defense and the more physical brand of play.

The Golden Eagle defense is the reason why the program was unable to make it to the Conference USA title game. The Cards will exploit it with a blend of Powell's running and a high-percentage intermediate passing game. Running behind a big and rugged offensive line, Powell will rush for more than 125 yards, controlling the clock and keeping the ball out of Davis' hands for long stretches of time. While Southern Miss will have some success with the ball, it won't be enough in a game it'll play from behind for most of the night.

CFN Prediction: Louisville 28 … Southern Miss 21 ... Line: Louisville -3
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Pick ATS: Louisville   Confidence Score: 17
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 5 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Louisville   Pick Confidence - 5
- Charlie Strong has quickly turned around the Louisville program and took a great first step to get to a bowl game in his first year. UofL is known for its offense, but the defense is the star under Strong. USM is known for its defense, but its explosive offense rocks ranked 15th in the nation in yards and 15th in scoring. The Big East needs this.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Louisville  Pick Confidence - 15
- Don't snicker, but this is a pivotal game for Louisville, which can parlay this trip to St. Petersburg into a launching point for the 2011 season. A well-rested Bilal Powell will be a load for Southern Miss to handle.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - Louisville  Pick Confidence - 9
- Larry Fedora has underachieved with the Golden Eagles; Charlie Strong has overachieved with the Cardinals. I know which way I'm going to go in this game.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Southern Miss  Pick Confidence - 21
- - It's been a pleasure following Charlie Strong turn things around at Louisville, but there remains a lot of work to do. Still, the fifth best team of a BCS conference should be able to handle the second best team in Conference USA (See: South Carolina v. SM, September 2, 2010); if not, that's another big nail in the coffin of the Big East. Is TCU packed yet?

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - Southern Miss  Pick Confidence - 2
- Charlie Strong is capable of doing big things at Louisville, and playing a bowl game in the fertile recruiting territory of the sunshine state will certainly help.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Louisville   Pick Confidence - 30
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Southern Miss Pick Confidence - 10
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Southern Miss  Pick Confidence - 15
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Louisville  Pick Confidence -  17
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Southern Miss   Pick Confidence -  11

Las Vegas Bowl History

2009 Rutgers 45, UCF 24
2008 Arizona 31, BYU 21
2007 BYU 17, UCLA 16
2006 BYU 38, Oregon 8
2005 California 35, BYU 28
2004 Wyoming 24, UCLA 21
2003 Oregon St 44, New Mexico 14
2002 UCLA 27, New Mexico 13
2001 Utah 10, USC 6
2000 UNLV 31, Arkansas 14
1999 Utah 17, Fresno State 16
1998 N Carolina 20, S. Diego St 13
1997 Oregon 41, Air Force 13
1996 Nevada 18, Ball State 15
1995 Toledo 40, Nevada 37 (OT)
1994 UNLV 52, Central Mich 24
1993 Utah State 42, Ball State 33
1992 Bowling Green 35, Nevada 34