Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

CONFERENCE USA NOTEBOOK ; Surprising Southern Miss Seeking to Become Bowl Eligible

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

CONFERENCE USA NOTEBOOK ; Surprising Southern Miss Seeking to Become Bowl Eligible

Article excerpt

Two of Conference USA's better turnaround stories, Southern Mississippi and Florida International, are in good shape to land in bowl games. Southern Miss could punch its ticket Saturday. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech and Rice meet in a Friday night game that will begin to sort out the West Division race.

Southern Miss (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) can become bowl-eligible for the first time since winning the 2011 league championship. To illustrate how tough life had become in Hattiesburg, consider this: The Golden Eagles have won more games this year then the previous three seasons combined (0, 1, 3).

A win over Texas-El Paso on Saturday will keep the Eagles tied in the loss column with the winner of the Louisiana Tech-Rice game, with three games left. They lost handily to Marshall and have handled three lesser lights (North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte), and are looking for a quality win.

But it wasn't long ago that Southern Miss was the punching bag. The Eagles are on the verge of the breakthrough coach Todd Monken has been working toward.

UTEP (3-4, 1-2) was careening downward but beat Florida Atlantic (1-6, 1-3) 27-17 last week, following the return of quarterback Mack Leftwich.

FIU (4-4, 2-2) is favored to take one more step Saturday when it plays FAU in the 13th Shula Bowl at Boca Raton. It is a critical game for the Panthers, who finish the season with Marshall (7-1, 4- 0) and Western Kentucky (6-2, 4-0).

FIU's Alex McGough-to-Jonnu Smith combination is in full swing. Against Old Dominion last week, McGough was 31 of 39 for 390 yards and three touchdowns, with tight end Smith catching 10 balls for 183 yards and two scores.

"I think the last couple of weeks he's been able to get free more, said coach Ron Turner. "They had to focus on different people and play their defense, and Jonnu took advantage of that.

Louisiana Tech and Rice met last year in the regular-season finale with the division title on the line and it got ugly - the Bulldogs rolled up a 76-31 victory. Most impressive: After a 35- yard Rice touchdown, the Owls trailed 28-24 before the Bulldogs scored the next 41 points in less than 20 minutes. …

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