Preview and betting tips for the Armed Forces Bowl
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles obviously felt slighted last season as they were not invited to a bowl game, despite a winning record. So it's understandable if they have a chip on their shoulder as they come into this post-season. On Saturday morning they revive an old geographic rivalry as they take on the Tulane Green Wave in the Armed Forces Bowl, which takes place at 11:30 AM ET at Amon G Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
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Southern Miss (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) was 6-5 last season, but they were one of four bowl-eligible teams to be shut out. This year, they have been a little short on solid wins, with the best one probably coming against UAB, which was playing without starting quarterback Tyler Johnston. All five of their losses came by double digits (to Alabama, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic). So it obviously does not look like a sterling resume.
Tulane went 7-6 last year, beating Louisiana-Lafayette 41-24 in the Cure Bowl. This year they were 6-6 (8-4 ATS), with significant victories over FIU and Army. But they have lost five of their last six games, so obviously they are not coming in with a big head of steam. On a positive note, this is the first time they have gone to back-to-back bowls since the 1979-80 seasons.
These teams used to meet every season in the "Battle For the Bell" but with the conference affiliations getting in the way (Tulane is in the American Athletic Conference, Southern Miss in Conference USA), they have not competed against each other since 2010. However, allegedly the bell, currently in the hands of Southern Miss, is on the line in this game.
In the college football betting odds that have been posted on this Armed Forces Bowl game, Tulane is favored by a touchdown:
Tulane Green Wave -7 (-105)
Southern Miss Golden Eagles +7 (-115)
Over 56.5 points -110
Under 56.5 points -110
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Willie Fritz runs the show at Tulane; he's had success in the past at a number of institutions, including Georgia Southern. And obviously when you hear the name of that school, you think "option." Fritz's version of the option runs the ball 61.5% of the time, and only twelve teams in the nation do it more frequently. Tulane is strong in this area of the game, averaging 250 yards per contest and 5.3 yards per carry. Justin McMillan, a transfer from LSU, does most of his damage with his legs, logging 704 rushing yards, but his passing numbers are not overly impressive (57% accuracy, 14 touchdowns, ten interceptions, ranked 75th in passing efficiency). When you look at the running back duo of Corey Dauphine and Darius Bradwell, as well as top wide receivers Jalen McCleskey (an Oklahoma State transfer) and Darnell Mooney, they are serviceable, but there are really no big home run hitters here.
Southern Miss certainly has the decisive edge in terms of its air attack. Quarterback Jack Abraham is productive (67.5% completions, 3329 yards), with his only drawback that he is going to make the occasional throwing error. In fact, he had 15 interceptions, one of the factors that led USM to a minus-9 turnover ratio, which put it in the lower reaches of Division I (FBS) teams. There are weapons available; top wide receiver Quez Watkins (1024 yards) averaged 18.6 yards per catch. And De' Michael Harris is a dynamic type, able to catch passes and run from scrimmage and possessing a lot of speed. This is going to be a challenge for Tulane. And Abraham isn't likely to be facing a lot of pressure, as the Green Wave registered only 18 sacks (in fact, that sack rate was just 116th in the nation out of 130 teams).
Probably the key factor in this game is that Southern Miss has a solid defensive unit that can slow down what Tulane does best. The Golden Eagles gave up only 3.4 yards per carry, allowed only 31.8% on third down (16th best in the country) and turned its opponents away scoreless on 22% of their red zone trips. When you break down the schedule, and consider that Jay Hopson's team played a number of capable offensive squads, including Alabama, you see that only Mississippi State had more than 200 yards rushing against this team (210). And only four of the 12 teams on the schedule average more than four yards per rushing attempt. That impresses us. We should mention that when a defense has this kind of talent and ability, the extra time (about a month) should be a big help in dealing with the option.
We also have to consider that Tulane is one of the most penalized teams in the nation; only seven schools have been flagged more than they have. So they will beat themselves that way. And with regards to momentum, well, they don't have any. We will gladly take the points in this regional showdown between schools that are about 110 miles away from each other and recruit a lot of the same players.
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