Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs Washington Huskies (-8.5, 56 o/u)
A top contender for stupidest bowl game name, this year’s coveted Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl will pit the Washington Huskies (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (9-4, 7-1 C-USA) in a game you will definitely watch, because hey: nothing else is on at 2:20 PM Eastern on Boxing Day (Dec. 26).
For the Huskies, this marks their sixth straight trip to a bowl game, a feat made pretty impressive when you look at the exodus of talent they had on the defensive side of the ball this year. Gone were the likes of Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha, and Andrew Hudson; and the team had little idea who would fill those shoes. But seniors like Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton stepped up, and actually improved Washington’s D this season (17.8 points per game, down from 24.8 in 2014). Now the question next year is, who will replace those guys?
At least the Huskies offense has a direction for the future. Both quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin are freshman, and both put in productive first seasons for the Huskies. Browning threw for 2,671 yards, 16 TDs, ten interceptions, and had a completion percentage of 62.9. Gaskin churned out 1,162 yards on the ground and ten touchdowns, including 138 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-10 victory over Washington State that helped the Huskies reach bowl-eligibility.
For Southern Miss, this game marks a welcome return to bowl season after missing out the last three years. The program bottomed out in 2012, going 0-12 that season. Head coach Todd Monken took over a year later and made small improvements (from 1-11 to 3-9) before exploding this season to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game.
The Golden Eagles were led by junior QB Nick Mullens. One of only seven passers in college to break 4,000 yards passing this year, he posted 4,165 yards, 36 TDs, and 12 INTs. Mullens’ favorite targets were Michael Thomas (62 receptions, 1,201 yards, 12 TDs), Casey Martin (74 rec., 855 yards, seven TDs) and DJ Thompson (52 rec., 743 yards, six TDs). Along with the two-headed backfield of Jalen Richard (1,098 yards, 14 TDs) and Ito Smith (1,088 yards, eight TDs), the Golden Eagles offense averaged 40.2 points and an outrageous 519.8 yards per game.
But in Conference USA, Southern Miss isn’t facing defenses like the Huskies’, a unit that had more interceptions (15) than passing touchdowns allowed (9).
Washington is 2-3 in its last five bowl games, while Southern Miss won their last bowl appearance in 2011, a 24-17 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. Thanks to catching most people (including sportsbooks) by surprise this season, the Golden Eagles were an impeccable 10-3 against the spread; the Huskies went just 7-5 but were 5-0 as a favorite of six or more points. Take the Huskies in this one.
Pick: Washington (-8.5).
(Photo Credit: Sarah McD from Portland, OR, USA (Husky Defense) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)