Southern Miss finished their season 9-4 and won the Conference USA Western Division. The Golden Eagles lost in the C-USA Championship Game to Western Kentucky 45-28. Southern Miss has had an incredible turnaround since head coach Todd Monken took over three years ago. Southern Miss went from winning one game in his first year to winning nine games so far this season.
Chris Petersen has seen his Huskies team backslide in his second season in Washington after going 8-6 in his first season. The 6-6 Huskies have won their last two games, just the second time doing so this season, and will need their stingy defense to step up against a high powered Southern Miss offense.
Washington vs. Southern Miss (Dallas)
Kickoff: 2:20 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Washington -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Huskies’ rushing defense vs. Golden Eagles one-two punch at RB
The Huskies fielded the best defense in the Pac-12 in 2015, anchored by its ability to stop the run. This unit is led by senior linebacker Travis Feeney, who has 15.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks, and has only allowed 13 rushing touchdowns all year. Southern Miss running back Jalen Richard has 14 rushing touchdowns by himself. The tandem of Richard and Ito Smith gave the Golden Eagles their first set of 1,000-yard rushers since 1981. The Golden Eagles are averaging 5.29 yards a carry this season and 192 yards per game.
2. Nick Mullens
Mullens has had a phenomenal year for the Golden Eagles racking up 4,145 yards, 36 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. The junior from Hoover, Ala., is ranked ninth nationally in passing with 318.8 yards per game and his QB rating of 155.06 places him 13th. Mullens is a huge reason why Southern Miss finished 7-1 in conference play and has a chance at 10 wins this season.
Both teams enter the bowl season with different motivations. The Huskies are a rebuilding team and have seen the good and bad this season. Finishing off the regular season with a huge win over an in-state rival and becoming bowl eligible brings its own motivation. But young teams tend to get side tracked especially with all that comes with going to a bowl. The Golden Eagles on the other hand have seen this program go from one win two years ago to a show at their first 10-win season since 2011.
The Huskies have played great defense all year but are a young team that has struggled to put together multiple good games together. That coupled with the fact that bowl games can bring their own set of distractions, leads me to believe that Southern Miss will win in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. The Golden Eagles are on a mission to show this year was no fluke and a 10-win season is on the line. I like the Golden Eagles to flex their muscles when it becomes necessary.
Prediction: Southern Miss 35, Washington 31
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.