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2011 Hawaii Bowl Preview

Nevada Wolf Pack vs Southern Miss. Golden Eagles

The Hawaii Bowl has usually been a showcase for the University of Hawaii’s football team over the years, but with the home-state school unable to secure bowl eligibility, this island encounter will involve two teams who will make their way from the mainland to Honolulu. In an environment such as this, the team with more to prove is the team that needs to come up big.

That team is most definitely the Nevada Wolf Pack.

It’s not as though the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles don’t want to win this Christmas Eve contest, but when kickoff time arrives at Aloha Stadium on the island of Oahu, it’s the roster from Reno which will want to put the regular season in the rearview mirror.

Southern Mississippi enters the Hawaii Bowl feeling very satisfied and at peace with itself. For the first time since 2003, the Golden Eagles managed to win the championship of Conference USA. They demolished the Houston Cougars, 49-28, this past weekend, winning their first C-USA Championship Game and erasing the two missteps which detracted from their autumnal sojourn. USM had stubbed its toe against Marshall and UAB earlier in the season, missing out on a BCS bowl when the opportunity was there. The loss to UAB, given that it occurred in week 12 of the season, hit hard for coach Larry Fedora’s team. The immensely disappointing performance against an inferior foe deprived the Golden Eagles of a possible ticket to the Sugar Bowl (it would have made the C-USA title game against Houston a Sugar Bowl play-in game). However, the 21-point takedown of Houston and the conference crown which accompanied it will allow Southern Miss to enter the upcoming offseason without any appreciable lack of fulfillment. A conference championship is the goal which this program has been chasing. Now that it’s been attained, the pressure is off in Hawaii.

The team that’s coming to the islands for business, and not for pleasure, is the team Southern Miss will stare down on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Nevada was supposed to have claimed the conference title Southern Miss wound up winning. The Wolf Pack was pasting Louisiana Tech, 20-3, in the fourth quarter of a make-or-break battle on Nov. 19. It seemed that it was just a matter of time before coach Chris Ault’s club would knock off its one remaining contender en route to the Western Athletic Conference throne. Nevada stood less than 15 minutes away from defending its 2010 co-championship in the WAC, shared with Boise State and Hawaii. Despite losing star players from its 2010 offense – chiefly quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua – Nevada had used a strong, vigorous defense to gain the upper hand against Louisiana Tech and, for that matter, the rest of the WAC.

Then, the house fell down. Louisiana Tech, seemingly out of nowhere, scored three touchdowns and produced three straight defensive stands to pull off a remarkable 24-20 come-from-behind upset. Nevada went from being the outright champion of the WAC to the second-place team in the conference. Louisiana Tech won the WAC and ensured that Nevada would move to the Mountain West Conference without an addition to its trophy case. This stunning defeat has left the Pack heartbroken, but it also means that Nevada has unfinished business to tend to in Hawaii. This game gives the Wolf Pack a chance to redeem themselves… on the night before Christmas, no less.

We’ll see if Nevada writes a happy ending to this particular Christmas story.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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