Two old rivals are set to square off as the Southern Miss Golden Eagles will meet the Tulane Green Wave in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. Colloquially known as the Battle of the Bell, the series dates back to 1979. The Bell, which was given a new paint job to included updated logos for both programs, will be at stake for the first time since 2010.
Southern Miss, which currently has possession of The Bell and enters with a 7-5 overall record that includes a 5-3 mark in Conference USA play, holds a commanding 23-7 lead in the series, and has won five straight meetings. But Tulane, at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference, is favored to win the trophy back.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Tulane
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 11:30 a.m. ET
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, Texas)
Spread: Tulane -7
When Southern Miss Has the Ball
The Golden Eagles have relied heavily on the pass in 2019. Southern Miss ranked among the top 25 nationally and led Conference USA in passing offense (288.6 ypg) during the regular season. Overall, the Golden Eagles rank third in C-USA with an average of 6.13 yards per play, which comes in at No. 41 on the FBS leaderboard.
Quarterback Jack Abraham completed 67.5 percent of his passes during the regular season, and he ranked in the top 20 in the country with 3,329 passing yards and an average of 8.7 yards per attempt. Abraham has thrown for 18 touchdowns but has also been intercepted 15 times. Only two FBS quarterbacks have been picked off more this season, and both (Utah State's Jordan Love and Anthony Gordon from Washington State) have already appeared in bowl games.
Quez Watkins led C-USA with 102.4 receiving yards per game, having hauled in 55 passes for 1,024 yards and five touchdowns in 10 contests. Watkins' 18.62 yards per catch currently ranks fifth in the conference. Tim Jones led the team with 66 receptions during the regular season, and he ranked second with 840 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow wideout Jordan Mitchell and the versatile De'Michael Harris also caught three scoring strikes for Southern Miss.
Harris and running back Kevin Perkins have largely shared the duties in the backfield. Harris leads the team with 113 carries and ranks second with 548 rushing yards. He shares the team lead with Abraham (who has run for 75 yards) with five scores on the ground. Perkins leads the Golden Eagles with 548 rushing yards and has scored three times. Steven Anderson has contributed 190 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane has averaged a similar 6.19 yards per snap overall, which ranks 35th nationally and No. 5 in the AAC. The Green Wave lean more on the running game and rank second in the conference and No. 20 overall in rushing offense (249.83) thanks to a deep and diverse group of ball carriers.
Quarterback Justin McMillan led the team with 704 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on a team-high 152 attempts during the regular season. Running back Corey Dauphine ranked second with 569 yards and seven touchdowns on just 70 carries — an explosive 8.13 yards per attempt. Darius Bradwell gained 448 yards on the ground and scored twice on 101 carries. Amare Jones (353 rushing yards, 4 TDs), Cameron Carroll (316, 4) and Stephon Huderson (240, TD) may all see action out of the backfield.
McMillan also is a capable passer, and has completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,229 yards and 14 touchdowns with 10 interceptions as a senior. His favorite target, Darnell Mooney, leads the team with 670 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 45 receptions. Oklahoma State transfer Jalen McCleskey follows close behind with 494 yards and three scores on 35 catches. Jones, the multipurpose back who is in line for a much bigger role in 2020, added 29 receptions, 310 yards and a TD. Tight end Tyrick James chipped in with 19 receptions, 283 yards and a score during the regular season.
Both Southern Miss and Tulane have plenty of weapons to choose from offensively, but both are also susceptible defensively. Though the Golden Eagles ranked No. 36 in the country in total defense (350.3 ypg) in the regular season, the unit surrendered 5.70 yards per play (70th). Tulane has allowed 5.51 yards per snap, which ranks 54th overall.
Southern Miss has excelled in stopping the run and led the conference and ranked 14th in the country in rushing defense (111.83), but the Golden Eagles allowed 8.2 yards per pass attempt — which ranked 108th. Tulane allowed just 6.8 yards per pass (37th) but struggled to contain opponents on the ground and allowed 4.42 yards per carry (79th).
Tulane is favored, and though these two old rivals have contrasting strengths, they are evenly matched overall. Expect a close, hard-fought game — the final Saturday matchup of this college football season — but for the Green Wave to take back The Bell.
Prediction: Tulane 31, Southern Miss 28
(Top photo courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics)