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The Louisville Cardinals and Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles took some major steps in the right direction this year, as both programs were fantastic by their standards. For the Cards, a trip to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl shows growth for a school that featured years of dismay under the direction of departed Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe. The Golden Eagles really wanted to win Conference USA this year, and though they didn't pull it off, they did beat the C-USA champs and ended up with arguably one of the best teams in the history of the school. But which team will beat the Beef O'Brady's Bowl odds in this one? Here are our college football bowl picks for Tuesday night's duel in the Sunshine State.
Beef O'Brady's Bowl Matchup: Louisville Cardinals vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Date: Tuesday, December 21st, 8:00 ET
Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
Beef O'Brady's Bowl Line: Louisville -2.5
Cardinals Notes: It was a great first year calling the shots for Head Coach Charlie Strong, who guided the Redbirds to a bowl game in his first year as a head coach in the rough and tumble Big East. Strong could have a major problem on his hands on Tuesday night if QB Adam Froman's leg injury continues to act up. Froman was supposed to be the catalyst for a spread attack this year, and though he had a respectable 11/4 TD/INT ratio, a 60.6 completion percentage and just 1,633 yards through the air wasn't really what the doctor ordered. What we found out about the 'Ville this year was that the wide receivers just weren't good enough to compete at this type of level in a BCS conference. None caught even 40 passes, and none got to the 500 yard mark either. However, the ground game was a significantly difference story. RB Bilal Powell only had about 800 yards in the running department for his career coming into this year, but all of a sudden, he shined very, very brightly. Powell was the second best runner in a Big East full of top backs, as he rumbled 211 times for 1,330 yards and ten scores. The Cardinals really made a name for themselves defensively in the Big East this year, though. They shut out two foes this year and only allowed two teams to score more than 24 points against them all season long. This should be a great test for a defense which allowed just 298.4 yards and 18.7 points per game. The aerial game for the opponents was just shut down on a regular basis, as teams only averaged 162.5 passing yards per game, No. 9 in the country.
Golden Eagles Notes: Was this the best version of the Golden Eagles ever? Even though SMS has had seasons with more than eight wins before, it's not often that you can go on the road and beat the conference champs and put up a legitimate Top 20 offense in the nation in the same year, especially without winning the league title. Head Coach Larry Fedora has a lot to be proud of for this squad this year, especially offensively. QB Austin Davis will be a 3,000 yard passer by the time this one is over, and he already has ten TDs on the ground and 18 more through the air, against just six INTs. Just like Louisville, there aren't a ton of great receiving options on this team, though WR Kevin Bolden and WR Johdrick Morris both had at right around 660 yards on the season. On the ground, five different men, including Davis, rushed for at least 228 yards, led by RB Kendrick Hardy, who had 855 yards and seven scores on the campaign. The Golden Eagles ranked No. 15 in the country in total offense at 461.1 yards per game and No. 15 in scoring at 37.6 points per game. However, their defense was a totally different story. SMS allowed 56 and 41 points respectively in its final two games of the season, and the unit gave up at least 41 points five times on the year. Giving up 29.4 points per game certainly wasn't what was expected this year, but it was the reason for which the Golden Eagles didn't win the East Division of Conference USA.
The Final Word: The Cardinals are going to make for a tough team to top in this one, but we're not so sure that the Golden Eagles aren't the right side. Conference USA was significantly better than people give it credit for this year, and it made start to be proven this week at the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Louisville will get a great final game out of Powell, but its strengths will be countered by the strengths of the C-USA reps. The Golden Eagles fly out of St. Pete with a win in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
Beef O'Brady's Bowl Free Pick: Southern Mississippi +3
Beef O'Brady's Bowl Prediction: Southern Miss 31 – Louisville 27