Hawaii Bowl Preview: Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIDecember 23, 2011

Hawaii Bowl Preview: Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    The 2011 edition of the Hawaii Bowl, the annual Christmas Eve contest, will feature the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

    The game will be played on Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET in Honolulu, Hawaii at Aloha Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.

    Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.

Nevada Wolf Pack

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    Record: 7-5 (5-2 WAC)

    Biggest win: vs Hawaii, 42-28, Nov. 12

    Worst loss: at Utah State, 17-21, Nov. 26

    Last year was the most successful year in the history of the Nevada Wolfpack football program as quarterback Colin Kaepernick led them to a memorable upset victory over Boise State en route to a tremendous 13-1 season. This year, with Kaepernick now in the National Football League, the Wolf Pack went back to being a middle-of-the-road team.

    The Wolf Pack were able to become bowl-eligible with a 7-5 record and being successful in conference, but they have zero wins this season against bowl-eligible teams. Two of their losses, however, were against top-10 ranked teams (Oregon and Boise State) on the road.

    While they did play a weak schedule, the fact their offense ranks fifth in the nation with 522.8 yards per game is still a fantastic statistic. Their passing offense ranks 30th nationally, while their rushing offense ranks eighth.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    Ranking in my National Top 25: #23

    Record: 11-2 (6-2 C-USA)

    Biggest win: at #15 Houston, 49-28, Dec. 3 (C-USA Championship)

    Worst loss: at UAB, 31-34, Nov. 17

    Last year, the Nevada Wolf Pack were the team that made headlines for busting the “BCS-busters" chance to play in the BCS. This year, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles were that team, thanks to a three-touchdown victory over the previously-undefeated Houston Cougars in the Conference USA Championship.

    The Golden Eagles have had a very good season, winning 11 games including their conference championship and a total of four wins over bowl-eligible teams. That said, the Golden Eagles did have two very bad losses against in-conference foes Marshall and UAB, neither team having a winning record.

    The Golden Eagles have a very productive offense, ranking 13th nationally in total yards with 471 per game. Defensively, Southern Miss ranks 31st nationally in yards allowed.

Players to Watch

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    Nevada WR Rishard Matthews, Senior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 4

    In last year’s big upset victory by the Wolf Pack over Boise State, Rishard Matthews had his breakout performance, with 10 receptions for 172 yards, and a receiving touchdown, as well as a 44-yard rushing touchdown. But as a senior, Matthews has had his breakout season.

    This year, Matthews has caught 91 passes for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns. With those numbers, Matthews ranks sixth in receiving yardage, and ninth in receptions.

    Matthews is a big-play receiver with terrific hands and good route-running skills. This season, Matthews has emerged to where he should be worth a fourth-round selection and in the Hawaii Bowl, Matthews will certainly be looking to make a big impression on the NFL scouts as he tries to lead Nevada to a big upset.

    Southern Miss DE Cordarro Law, Senior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 7

    Southern Miss DE/LB Jamie Collins, Junior

    2013 NFL Draft Grade: Round 6*

    The Golden Eagles have a playmaking defensive front seven, leading a defense that ranks fifth nationally with 95 tackles for loss. The two major catalysts up front are senior defensive end Cordarro Law and junior hybrid defender Jamie Collins.

    Law is an athletic defensive end who has 17.5 tackles for loss, and leads the Golden Eagles with 7.5 sacks. Law’s numbers could be even better, if it were not for the number of double teams he draws.

    Against a dangerous, multi-faceted offensive team in Nevada, Law’s play up front is going to be key for Southern Miss’s success. The Wolf Pack will have to keep him in check, or he can wreak havoc on their backfield.

    I had to make this player to watch a pair of players, because it was too hard to choose between Law and Collins. Jamie Collins is a really intriguing defensive player: as a freshman, Collins was a defensive back, but he has continually grown while at Southern Miss and now plays both defensive end and linebacker.

    Collins is usually playing in the stand-up wherever he lines up, but his biggest asset is that while he has grown, he still has defensive back speed. This makes Collins a dangerous rusher into the backfield, while he also has the ability to cover if needed, and make plays from sideline to sideline. He seems to always be around the play when he is on the field.

    Law is not a great NFL prospect due to the fact that he is only 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds, but he has the talent to be worth a late-round selection. As for Jamie Collins, he should certainly not declare for the NFL Draft, but is an intriguing prospect for 2013: given his athletic ability, he has a real chance to make it in the NFL as a hybrid outside linebacker if he can continue to bulk up.

    Southern Miss RB/WR Tracy Lampley, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 7-Undrafted

    Tracy Lampley is the playmaker of the Southern Miss offense. Lampley is very small at just 5'9" and under 170 pounds, but he has tremendous quickness, and is a terrific receiver out of the backfield.

    Lampley is among the Golden Eagles’ leading rushers and receivers, as well as being the team’s leading kick and punt returner: in total, he is averaging 134.9 all-purpose yards per game. In one facet or another, Southern Miss will be looking for their small dynamo to make a big play if they are to win the Hawaii Bowl.

Comparing the Two Teams

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    Common opponent: Louisiana Tech

    Nevada: Home loss, 20-24, Nov. 19

    Southern Miss: Home win, 19-17, Sept. 3

    Wins vs bowl-eligible teams: Nevada 0, Southern Miss 4

    Losses vs non-bowl-eligible teams: Nevada 1, Southern Miss 1

    Nevada’s rushing offense: Eighth in nation, 251.8 yards per game

    Southern Miss’s rushing defense: 20th in nation, 112.6 yards per game

    Southern Miss’s scoring offense: 14th in nation, 37.8 points per game

    Nevada’s scoring defense: 58th in nation, 25.3 points per game

Prediction Analysis

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    Nevada’s offense ranks fifth in the nation; that said, their offense lacks a set quarterback or a dynamic rusher. In this game, they will be going up against a much more complete, well-rounded Southern Miss Golden Eagles squad.

    The Wolf Pack will put up yards and points on Southern Miss’s defense, but the Golden Eagles have much better playmakers who can make the big plays necessary to slow down the Wolf Pack offense than vice versa.

    The Golden Eagles come into this game off possibly their biggest win in school history, an upset over Houston that handed the Cougars their first loss, while winning Southern Miss its first-ever Conference-USA Championship. Going against a team that has no big victories this season, I think Southern Miss should win this game by a significant margin.

    Final Score Prediction: Southern Miss 48, Nevada 24