It’s been a weird season for Florida State, not one many predicted after entering the season in the top five of the AP Poll. The Seminoles had to win their final three Games to be in this spot as they finished with a 6-6 record. They’ll get another Conference USA team after taking down ULM in the regular-season finale. The Seminoles were early -15.5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the Game in Louisiana.
Motivation will definitely be a talking point in this Game for FSU, getting to play another C-USA team in a bowl Game. Then again, with a new coach, a lot of the players will have some impressing to do with Willie Taggart coming in from Oregon. Interim coach Odell Haggins will still lead the team after taking control ahead of the ULM win. The offense has kind of found its way with James Blackman at quarterback in the last few Games, but a lot of that has to do with competition. This is still the same offense that averaged 26 points per Game for the season.
Southern Miss should be plenty excited to face Florida State, even after an underwhelming season. The Golden Eagles had some tough losses to North Texas and UAB in Conference play, but stayed competitive in losses to Kentucky and Tennessee. In like opponents, USM won at ULM 28-17 earlier in the season, while FSU just beat the Warhawks 42-10.
Both of these teams have been led by solid defensive play this season, although the ‘Noles will be without top safety Derwin James as he gets ready for the NFL. That’ll be a blow to this group, but nothing impossible to overcome. FSU was stout on all accounts and gave up just 3.7 yards per carry. That’s going to be the big thing USM has to overcome because this offense goes through its running Game.
Senior running back Ito Smith has put together another great season with 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 370 receiving yards. But against bigger teams, he struggled to get anything going and that led to a combined 27 points against Kentucky and Tennessee. If that’s the case here, the Eagles will have trouble reaching 20 points. Quarterback hasn’t been a strong suit with Kwadra Griggs taking the starting spot over again for the final three Games. While he has thrown 15 touchdowns to only two interceptions, he’s still only completing 56.5 percent of his passes on 7.50 yards per attempt. That’s fine, but not something that’s going to help USM move the ball if the ground Game isn’t working against FSU.
It’s the same situation on the other side of the field because Florida State doesn’t want Blackman passing too much. He has 11 interceptions this season to go with 15 touchdowns and a similar 57.2 completion rate on 7.37 yards per attempt. The ‘Noles have had success running the ball with Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick in recent Games and that’s where they’ll turn here. If USM can’t stop those guys, FSU should be in for another cover. The Golden Eagles only allow 3.7 yards per carry, but that stat doesn’t mean as much playing in C-USA.
If USM can’t run the ball, this Game could be over by halftime. But usually when that’s the case in a bowl Game between a school that had higher expectations and one that’s happy to be there, it doesn’t go as expected.
The Golden Eagles are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five bowl Games while the Seminoles are 9-2-1 ATS in their last 12 bowl Games. USM is 10-4 ATS in its last 14 Games overall while FSU is 3-7-2 ATS in its last 12 overall.
Our Pick – OVER 49