The last college football Saturday of the season will give us an inter-conference rivalry game in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl between the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles of Conference USA and the Tulane Green Wave of the AAC. The late-morning kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 EST on Saturday, January 4 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current odds list Tulane as 7-point favorites with an over/under of 56.5 points. Click here to get the betting odds and a game preview of every game during bowl season.
Willie Fritz started the turn around at Tulane last year by getting the Green Wave to a bowl game for the first time since 2013. He continued to make progress this season by leading Tulane to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1980. The season was far from ideal, as the Green Wave lost five of their last six games after a promising start, ultimately finishing 6-6 with a 3-5 record in conference play. However, the Green Wave won last year’s Cure Bowl to finish at 7-6 and Tulane has that same opportunity to clinch a winning season by winning their bowl game.
As for Southern Miss, they are back in a bowl game after not receiving an invitation last year despite being eligible. Jay Hopson has now taken the Golden Eagles to a bowl in three of his four seasons, continuing the turnaround started under Todd Monken. This year, the Eagles shook off a couple of early-season losses to Mississippi State and Alabama, winning five of six games during the middle of the season to put themselves in a position to win the C-USA West Division. However, the Golden Eagles lost their final two games of the season Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic, knocking them down to 5-3 in conference play and 7-5 overall. Nevertheless, the season was surely a step forward for Southern Miss.
It’s also worth noting that this bowl game will reunite a pair of old rivals. Tulane and Southern Miss are located just 110 miles apart and have long had a rivalry dubbed the Battle of the Bell. They met regularly as members of Conference USA until Tulane left for the AAC earlier this decade. This will actually be the first meeting between the two schools since 2009, although they are scheduled to begin a four-game series in 2022. At the moment, Southern Miss has won 22 of the 29 all-time meetings, including the last five. Tulane’s last win in this rivalry came in 2002.
I actually had to do a double-take on this spread because I was surprised to see Tulane favored by a touchdown. Despite some close games, the Green Wave struggled to beat bowl-eligible teams down the stretch. In fact, Tulane’s only win over a bowl team came in their season opener against Florida International. Even if this game were a straight-up PK, I might lean toward Southern Miss, so I’ll gladly take the Golden Eagles against the 7-point spread.
Tulane’s biggest strength on offense is their running game. However, quarterback Justin McMillan was the team’s leading rusher by a wide margin, which is sometimes a red flag. In fairness, Corey Dauphine and Darius Bradwell are solid running backs as well. But McMillan is the feature back in the Tulane offense. That got Tulane into a little trouble late in the year when they started playing better teams.
Despite his athleticism, McMillan is a rather average passer, throwing just 14 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions this year. He also took 12 sacks over the final three games of the season, all Tulane losses. When McMillan faced more athletic defenses that kept him under wraps on the ground, he wasn’t able to make them pay through the air. I can see a similar storyline playing out in this game.
The Southern Miss defense is by no means elite, but they’re rock solid, especially against the run. Outside of their two games against SEC opponents, the Golden Eagles rarely had trouble keeping the running game contained. Even the top teams in Conference USA had rather modest rushing totals against the Southern Miss defense. I think the Golden Eagles will be able to limit the Green Wave to a modest point total, probably in the low 20s.
Meanwhile, Southern Miss has a quarterback in Jack Abraham who is capable of doing some damage through the air. Of course, the Golden Eagles don’t get much out of their running game. Abraham also struggled with turnovers late in the season. However, he typically completes a high percentage of his throws and is able to push the ball downfield. Both Quez Watkins and Tim Jones had over 800 yards receiving this year, so the Eagles have some playmakers on the outside. Also, the Tulane defense gave up nearly 36 points per game over their final six games when they started to face better competition. That makes me think they’ll have their hands full against the Southern Miss offense.
In the end, I think the Green Wave will struggle to sustain drives because they rely on so much on McMillan to use his legs. Meanwhile, Abraham and his receivers should be able to hit on some big plays against the Tulane defense. Not only do I think Southern Miss will beat the spread, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Golden Eagles get another win in this rivalry.