2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl - So. Miss vs. Cincy
Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk
Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk
Posted Dec 14, 2007

2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl Preview - Southern Miss vs. Cincinnati

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

Dec. 21st  1 p.m.  ESPN2

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- 2006 CFN PapaJohns.com Bowl Preview
WhatIfSports.com PapaJohns.com Bowl Prediction & Box Score 

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National Rankings
Southern Miss Cincinnati
Total Offense
62nd  393.92 ypg 28th  436.33 ypg
Total Defense
47th  363.17 ypg 51st  370.67 ypg
Scoring Offense
57th  28.33 ppg 14th  36.75 ppg
Scoring Defense
38th  23.58 ppg 11th  18.58 ppg
Run Offense
22nd  200.33 ypg 56th  154.17 ypg
Run Defense
48th  139.58 ypg 15th  105.67 ypg
Pass Offense
90th  193.58 ypg 23rd  282.17 ypg
Pass Defense
52nd  223.58 ypg  105th  265 ypg
Turnover Margin
74th  -0.17  3rd  1.42
Southern Miss
UT Martin W 35-13
at Tenn. L 39-19
at ECU W 28-21
at Boise St L 38-16
Rice L 31-29
SMU W 28-7
at Marshall W 33-24
UCF L 34-17
at UAB W 37-7
Memphis L 29-25
at UTEP W 56-30
Ark State W 16-10
SE Miss. St W 59-3
Oregon State W 34-3
at Miami U. W 47-10
Marshall W 40-14

at SDSU W 52-23
at Rutgers W 28-23
Louisville L 28-24
at Pitt L 24-17
at So Florida W 38-33

Connecticut W 27-3
West Virginia L 28-23

at Syracuse W 52-31
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USM 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 3.5
2.5 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 4
3.5 D Line 3.5
3.5 Linebackers 3.5
3 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 3
3 Coaching 4

Although Cincinnati was hoping for a higher profile venue in December, say the Sun Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl, a chance to win a second bowl game in the same calendar year and a tenth game for the first time since 1951 will be plenty enough motivation in Birmingham. 

Along with Connecticut, the Bearcats were one the Big East’s big surprises, flirting with a league title well into November before fading after a loss to West Virginia on Nov. 17.  The team has responded very well under first-year head coach Brian Kelly, quickly adopting his passer-friendly “Cat Attack” offense and setting a school record for points in a season.  The new system wound up making a star out of Wake Forest export Ben Mauk, who flipped 27 touchdown passes and led the league in passing efficiency.  On defense, Cincy did a fair amount of attacking as well, stuffing the run with a veteran front four, and leading the Big East in both sacks and turnover margin.  Very quietly, Kelly has Cincinnati ramping up toward bigger and better things, but will he be on board when the program gets there?  One of the rising stars in the coaching ranks, his name has been linked to some higher-profile openings this month.       

Kelly’s future at Cincinnati is a topic of uncertainty, but Jeff Bower’s future at Southern Miss is not.  After 17 successful years in Hattiesburg, he was forced to resign following a disappointing 7-5 season that many felt would end with a league title and a berth in the Liberty Bowl.  Bower will be on the sidelines one final time, facing a familiar foe that was a member of Conference USA from 1996-2005.

Early 20-point defeats to Tennessee and Boise State lowered the bar for the Golden Eagles in 2007, but it was an inexcusable home loss to Rice on Oct. 3 that sent shockwaves throughout the conference and the program.  Southern Miss recovered to nab a ninth bowl berth in the last decade, but never mounted a challenge in the East Division.  While it has star power on both sides of the ball in RB Damion Fletcher and LB Gerald McRath, the supporting cast is average, and the signature “Nasty Bunch” defense was not vintage quality during the regular season.

The PapaJohns.com Bowl will be an audition of sorts for both Kelly and Bower.  While Kelly could be in line for a substantial promotion, Bower has been steadfast since his resignation that he’s not through with coaching.       

Players to watch: One of Kelly’s big concerns when he coached the Bearcats in last year’s International Bowl was whether or not he had enough quality receivers to effectively run his offense in 2007.  It took a few weeks, but redshirt freshman Marcus Barnett answered the call, developing into Mauk’s favorite target, while catching 60 passes for 845 yards and 13 touchdowns.  A sure-handed, 6-1 target with good separation speed, he’s going to be a handful for a beatable Southern Miss secondary that’ll have to compensate for its own freshman, starting CB C.J. Bailey.  

For Southern Miss to pull the upset in Birmingham, it has to create running lanes for Fletcher, one of the forgotten star running backs in a league that already has a pair of 2,000-yard rushers, UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte.  The sophomore has run for more than 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons, carrying the Eagle offense for a time when the quarterback situation was in disarray.  It’ll be incumbent upon linemen Chris Clark, Nick Dean, and Ryan McKee to get a push up front against a Terrill Byrd-led defensive line that yielded more than 100 yards rushing in a game just three times all year.        

Southern Miss will win if... QB Jeremy Young makes a number of big plays with his arm and legs.  When healthy, he’s a dangerous quarterback that’s capable of breaking down defenses whether he’s sitting back in the pocket, or sprinting out of it on designed runs.  Cincinnati is going to score points, and make it very difficult for Fletcher, Tory Harrison, and the rest of the Golden Eagle running game to control the tempo of the game.  If Southern Miss is going to keep pace, it’ll be up to Young and his two favorite targets, WR Torris Magee and TE Shawn Nelson, to outperform a Bearcat secondary that permits a lot of long completions.    

Cincinnati will win if... it controls the turnover battle.  Few programs in the country have been better at creating takeaways than the Bearcats, which boast Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith, a couple of thieves at cornerback.  Southern Miss has been careless all year with ball, which is a surefire way to turn a competitive game into a rout.  If Cincy gets pressure up front with Byrd and DE Anthony Hoke, Young is type of inconsistent quarterbacks that’ll make ill-advised throws.         

What will happen: Two schools trending in different directions will continue down those paths.  Cincinnati will get a couple of touchdown passes from Mauk, and at least three turnovers from a defense that’s substantially faster than the Southern Miss offense.  The Eagles would love to send Bower off with a victory, but once they get down in the second half, there won’t be much fight left in a program that’s being led by a lame duck coach.

Line: Cincinnati -11 ... CFN Prediction: Cincinnati 34 ... Southern Miss 20

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