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December 18, 2007
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
WEATHER: Cloudy, about 63.
TV: ESPN2 (Pam Ward will do play-by-play, with Ray Bentley as the analyst).
THE LINE: Cincinnati by 11.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Cincinnati 4-1, Southern Miss 1-4.
RECORD VS. BCS TOP 25: Cincinnati 2-1, Southern Miss 0-2.
BCS RANK: Cincinnati 22nd; Southern Miss N/A.
SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Cincinnati 53rd, Southern Miss T-96th.
COACHES: Cincinnati?Brian Kelly (1-0 in bowls); Southern Miss?Jeff Bower (6-4 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If nothing else, it should be intriguing to see how the Southern Miss players ? and the ESPN announcers ? treat Bower, who already has been replaced (by Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora) as coach. Cincinnati's mind-set also is important; the Bearcats deserved a better postseason destination.
KEY STATS: Southern Miss is 22nd nationally in rushing offense (200.3 yards per game). Cincinnati is 15th in rushing defense (105.7 yards per game). Southern Miss can't win if it's forced to throw.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk quietly put together one of the best seasons in the nation. He threw for 2,787 yards, with 27 TDs and just six picks. Mauk also ran for another 335 yards and three scores. He'll be throwing against a Southern Miss secondary headed by CB Brandon Sumrall (91 tackles, five picks).
His final game as Southern Miss coach comes Saturday in the Papajohns.com Bowl in the same stadium.
Bower "resigned" Nov. 26 but is being allowed to coach this final game even though Southern Miss already has hired a replacement (Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora).
Bower, a Golden Eagles alum, is in his 17th season at Southern Miss; that's fourth on the active list of Division I-A coaches who have the longest tenure at the same institution, behind only Penn State's Joe Paterno, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer.
Despite the potentially awkward situation of playing for a coach who already has been replaced, players said practices have gone well.
"We're more relaxed and focused," star tailback Damion Fletcher told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American. "We want to win this last game for Coach Bower, and send these coaches out on a winning note."
Bower has to be hoping his final game has a different outcome than his first with the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss lost to North Carolina State in that 1990 All-American Bowl. Bower, incidentally, was hired off the Oklahoma State staff, where he was offensive coordinator. He replaced Curley Hallman, who had been hired by LSU. Southern Miss officials chose Bower to coach in that season's bowl rather than Hallman.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.