The game was supposed to belong to Southern Mississippi. The Eagles were playing in their third-straight New Orleans Bowl, while their opponent, Middle Tennessee was in their second bowl, ever.
Southern Miss was a member of Conference USA, a conference superior to the Blue Raider's Sun Belt affiliation. The Eagles had a 6'6" inch wide receiver in DeAndre Brown, along with a running back, Damion Fletcher, who had amassed over 5,000 yards in his career.
Middle Tennessee simply shut down these play makers enroute to a 42-32 victory in the New Orleans bowl.
DeAndre Brown recorded 4 catches for 65 yards, while Damion Fletcher barely eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the season running for only 78 yards.
The era of the New Orleans Bowl as an cupcake victory for Conference USA has ended. Staring in 2006, the Sun Belt has outscored the "superior" C-USA by the score of 154-106.
The Sun Belt has gone 3-1 in bowls since 2006, with an overtime loss being the only blemish on their record. Also since 2006, the league has put together a 4-2 record in bowl games.
As for Conference USA over this time span? They are 7-11.
What Middle Tennessee did last night to Southern Miss was put doubt in the eyes of the fans of Conference USA. Maybe this pass happy league has forgotten about the lost art of defense.
Middle Tennessee shut down two of the league's biggest play-makers while relying on the success of their undersized defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback.
Middle Tennessee beat Southern Miss by a larger margin than both division champions, Houston (seven), and East Carolina (five). They also did this while playing through the "weak" in-conference portion of their schedule.
The victory should have been larger as Southern Miss scored a garbage touchdown with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
To the fans of Conference USA and their run and gun style of "offense only" football, it might be a good idea to look at the tape of last night's game.
Simply put, the "superior" team was dominated on all sides of the ball following the first quarter.
Once the game was tied, there was no question that the Blue Raiders knew they were the better team in New Orleans.
For a superior team, Southern Miss gave up more points than every Sun Belt team the Blue Raiders faced except for Western Kentucky and Florida International.
The time for beating Conference USA's chest is over. While the bowl games are nice, winning bowl games is the way a league will expand.
Sorry C-USA, Arena Football doesn't work when you can't stop anybody on the other side of the ball.
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