Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (9-3 SU, 10-2 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-2 SU, 6-5-1 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date/Time: Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 12PM EST
Where: L. T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Kentucky
TV: ESPN 2
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USM +7.5/WKU -7.5
Over/Under Total: 72
The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers for the Conference USA Championship on Saturday. The game will be held at LT Smith Stadium, the home-venue for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Southern Miss was 7-1 in the C-USA this season and they looked really good in their last game, thumping a pretty good Louisiana Tech team 58-24. They have won 6 games in a row and have been big ATS5-1 in that stretch. Western Kentucky, however, did them one better, going unbeaten in conference play. Last Friday, they brushed aside Marshall, 49-28. Their only setback in their last nine games was a loss to LSU.
The Hilltoppers have two losses, dropping games to teams from premier conferences. They have looked to be a grade better than their Conference USA counterparts this season and they enter this game with a head of steam, scoring 112 points in their last two games. Last Friday, they dominated a 9-3 Marshall team. In Conference USA games, the Hilltoppers have averaged 53 points per game. Southern Misss defense will have their work cut out this Saturday.
The bulk of production from the WKU offense comes aerially. They are led by quarterback Brandon Doughty, who is near 4200 yards passing on 73% completions. He leads all of college football with 42 touchdown throws, against 6 interceptions. DAndre Ferby and Anthony Wales combine to make a good ground game, accounting for 16 touchdown runs. Aerially, Taywan Taylor is the key weapon, with 15 touchdown catches. All told, they have five different receivers in excess of 500 yards receiving. They also have a good red-zone tight end in Tyler Higbee. They have racked up a lot of big numbers against some pretty dicey defenses and on Saturday, they will be tested a bit against the Golden Eagles defense.
Western Kentucky is an offense-heavy team, whose defense is the only question mark on the team. At the same time, they are giving up 25 points per game on average. No one in this conference has surpassed 30 points against this defense. And with 27 turnovers, they can make the occasional big play to turn things in their favor. Theyre not the shining light of the team, but theyre not an obstacle to victory, either. They will definitely be facing one of the better offenses they have faced all season.
The Golden Eagles have been prolific on offense this season. Nick Mullens is also a very aerially-inclined quarterback who has close to 4000 yards and 35 touchdown passes. There is perhaps a little more balance on this offense, even if they are slightly less-explosive than Western Kentucky. They have a viable running game with Ito Smith and Jalen Richard scoring 20 times with runs. The passing-game is comprised of an ensemble of different talented ball-catchers. And like Western Kentucky and maybe even to a greater degree, they are peaking entering this game, having scored 179 points in their last 3 games. On Saturday, they scored a fat 58 points against 8-3 Louisiana Tech.
Southern Miss actually has a pretty decent defense. In giving up an average of 22.4 points per game, they are pretty effective, usually giving the offense more than enough room with which to work. They offer some balance, being both fairly-stiff against both the run and the pass. They can get the occasional game-changing play and they often times restrict opposing offenses to very few points.
The Golden Eagles can do a little bit of everything and will operate with a lot of variety on both sides of the ball. They have a lot of balance on offense and defense. Last season they won 3 games and you cant underestimate the grit, coaching, and character of teams that are able to orchestrate such a quick turnaround. As recently as 2012, they were 0-12. So theres a lot of willpower on that sideline, a lot of internal fortitude that could serve them well in this game.
This is a fascinating matchup between the clear 1 and 2 teams in an overlooked, but talent-packed conference. Western Kentucky has been more dominant on a more-consistent basis throughout the season and has established more separation between themselves and their Conference USA contemporaries than Southern Miss has. But theres something about this matchup that suggests this could be a close game.
This coming at home will be a nice advantage for WKU, who can increase their bowl profile this weekend in scoring their 11th win on the season. Theyve been tested on the road with 4 of their last 6 games away from home and should flourish in this home spot. Southern Miss will give them a heck of a game, but the WKU offense will pull away late for the win and the cover.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers minus 7.5 points.
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