Middle Tennessee (9-3) and Southern Mississippi (7-5) will meet for the first time when they square off in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl. The Sunday, December 20th game will be the third bowl game of the season, following the New Mexico and St. Petersburg Bowls. It will be broadcast on ESPN.
Middle Tennessee's current six-game winning streak is its longest since an 8-game string that started in late 2000 and ended five games into 2001.
This is only the second bowl appearance ever for MTSU. Their first postseason trip came in Rick Stockstill's inaugural season as the head coach, a 31-14 loss to Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl.
"We are thrilled to extend our season in New Orleans and appreciate the invitation by the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl," said Director of Athletics Chris Massaro. "It is a great bowl for our players and fans and we can't wait to get there. We are proud to be one of just two schools in the state of Tennessee going to a bowl game and we will represent the state well.”
Southern Miss is no stranger to postseason play or the New Orleans Bowl, in particular. The Golden Eagles have played in 11 bowl games over the past 12 years with a record of 7-4 in that span. Larry Fedora is making his second trip to the Big Easy in his second season as the head coach. Overall, USM is making its fourth appearance in this game where they hope to remain undefeated.
"We are extremely excited about going back to New Orleans. Last year, the bowl did a great job of taking care of our football team. Our guys had a great time while we were down there and our fans did a great job of coming to the game. We know that we will have another great crowd this year.”
Southern Miss started its 2009 season as one of the favorites to win C-USA's east division. Our season preview picks (based on this site's Congrove Computer Rankings) picked the Golden Eagles to go 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the conference. It missed the overall mark by 1, but pegged the conference record.
The computer performed even better with Middle Tennessee, nailing both its overall record of 9-3 and conference mark of 7-1.
The Golden Eagles sprung from the gate with three straight home victories, but then lost three consecutive road games at Kansas, UAB and Louisville. Leading rusher Damion Fletcher missed the UAB game, as did leading receiver DeAndre Brown. Martevious Young made his first start at QB in the Louisville loss after Austin Davis was injured late in the UAB game. After a narrow loss to the Cards, Southern Miss followed two home wins with a 50-43 shootout loss at Houston. Finally, on November 14, USM pocketed its only road win of the 2009 season with a 27-20 victory at Marshall. A 25-20 loss at East Carolina in the season finale ended its shot at capturing the division title.
Middle Tennessee opened with a loss at Clemson before winning three straight games, including its second in-a-row over Maryland. Last year, the Blue Raiders beat the Terps in Murfreesboro. But this year, they sprung the upset on Maryland's own field. A 31-7 loss at Troy in week 5 put MTSU behind the 8-ball for any chance at winning its conference crown and the Trojans ultimately went undefeated in Sun Belt games. After another loss to Mississippi State, the Blue Raiders began their season-ending run. Middle Tennessee waltzed through its remaining conference schedule by winning 5 of those games by at least 17 points.
Both teams bring formidable, balanced offenses to the table.
Middle Tennessee averaged 419.3 yards of offense and 31.2 points per game. Clemson, Troy and Mississippi State were the only teams to hold the Blue Raider offense under 27 points, and they scored 34 or more against 8 opponents.
Southern Miss averaged 418.3 yards of offense and 33 points per game. They scored over 40 points on 3 FBS opponents and were never held to less than 17.
Each team also ranks 3rd in its respective conference in total defense. Middle Tennessee led the Sun Belt in points allowed; USM was 3rd in that category in C-USA.
Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher is a dual threat who ranks 9th nationally in total offense. Dasher dashed for 953 yards and 11 TD's, and passed for 2,627 yards with 21 TD's.
Southern Miss' Fletcher needs just 63 yards to become a 1,000-yard rusher for the fourth straight season.