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Conference USA Title Preview

December 01, 2006

This year's Conference USA Title game will be a rematch of one of the leagues best regular season games. Southern Mississippi and Houston played back on October 14 in Hattiesburg, MS, with the Golden Eagles winning 31-27 as single point favorites. In that contest the Cougars actually out-gained the Southern Miss 377-325. What the difference was how the Golden Eagles effectively stopped the Houston running game, holding them to 38 yards. With a change of venue over to Texas, Houston will have an opportunity to even the season series up at one apiece and take the conference crown.

As compared to the MAC title game, where the winner and loser already had bowl assignments line up no matter the outcome, this C-USA title game has more a traditional drama. The winner will go to the tie-in AutoZone Liberty Bowl to play an SEC team, while the loser will to the GMAC Bowl to take on Ohio U. For those who have not seen Houston play, the very first impression you will have is WOW. Senior Kevin Kolb has had a marvelous season completing 68.2 percent of his passes, for 3,165 yards and 25 touchdowns. Before his final season, Kolb never had all the speed and weaponry he's had this year, with all the targets he's thrown just three interceptions. All of this has led to Houston being the top offensive team (439.5 YPG) and top scoring team (32.7) in the conference.

Other then Houston, Southern Miss had had troubles with potent offensive teams. Coach Jeff Bower prefers the grind out attack that wears down opponents and delivers the knock-out punch in the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles love the smash-mouth football averaging a league best 174.2 yards per game. USM is 5-0 when running for 200 or more yards, covering four times. A player to watch is freshmen Damion Fletcher, who is a crafty running back who finds every crease to gain yards.

What gives Southern Miss a real shot in this title tilt is its defense. They finished the best in the league at 18.2 PPG and second in total defense at 303.8 yards allowed a contest. The secondary in particular was very strong, with 15 interceptions and surrendering a conference low 11 touchdowns. The 172.5 yards a game was 24th nationally.

Despite all the gaudy offensive numbers for Houston it was the Cougars defense that allowed them to win the C-USA West Division. Long a defensive doormat, Houston played more within the concept and stopped over-running plays. The 22.1 PPG allowed is the lowest since 1999. In this game the Cougars need to hold ground and have linebackers attack the running backs for Southern Miss.

Houston is the home team and is a 4.5-point favorite with a total of 53.5 at Sportsbook.com

These teams have met nine times previously with the team having the most rushing yards winning seven times. The other elements in this championship game favor Houston. The Cougs are 6-1 at home with a 5-1 ATS record. Additionally the home team is 7-2 against the spread in this series.

The kick-off is expected at just after 8:00 EST on ESPN2.

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