After seven years of being one of the first games in the bowl season, the GMAC Bowl takes a different tact this year, becoming the final game played before the BCS title event.
The two participants in this year's game couldn't be much more different. One has become a bowl regular, the other hasn't seen much more than a cereal bowl.
Ohio makes its first appearance in a bowl game since 1968 after achieving uncommon success in Frank Solich's second year as head coach. The Bobcats haven't played this late in the season since 1968 when they fell to Richmond in the Tangerine Bowl. Their only other bowl date was the 1962 Sun which they lost 15-14 to West Texas A&M.
Ohio received the bid, even before they fell 31-10 to Central Michigan in the MAC Championship game. Until that defeat, Ohio had won seven straight games for its longest such streak since 1968 when they finished the regular season 10-0.
Southern Miss is going bowling for the fifth straight year, and ninth in the last ten years. This is the Golden Eagles second trip to Mobile where they beat TCU 28-21 in 2000.
Southern Miss is the school Jeff Bower just can't leave. He is finishing his 16th full season as head coach in Hattiesburg (he also coached the final game of the 1990 season) with an all-time record of 111-77-1 that includes a current string of 13 consecutive winning seasons. It is the only school he has ever served as head coach. He transferred from Georgia to play quarterback for Southern Miss from 1973-1975 and still ranks among the school's best players in history. Bower stayed on as an assistant coach through 1981. He returned as offensive coordinator in 1988, and came back at the end of the 1990 season to begin his career has head coach.
Ohio's Solich was a star fullback for Nebraska in the mid-1960's and later spent 19 years as an assistant under Tom Osborne. He was named head coach when Osborne retired to pursue a political career and compiled a 58-19 record in six years. He was fired after a 9-4 season in 2003, the year after leading the Cornhuskers to the national championship game against Miami.
This game will feature two of the nation's top fifteen ground-gainers.
Kalvin McRae is the workhorse back for Ohio, accounting for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ranked 15th nationally and 2nd in the MAC behind Garrett Wolfe.
For Southern Miss, Damion Fletcher was the number two runner in CUSA and 11th in the nation with 1,330 yards.
Ohio's definite weakness is in a passing game that produced more turnovers than touchdowns with 13 interceptions and 8 scores. Bobcat quarterbacks haven't thrown a touchdown pass since the October 21 win over Buffalo, a stretch of five games.
If Southern Miss shuts down Kalvin McRae, quarterback Austen Everson is Ohio's second-leading rusher with just 373 yards.
Southern Miss gets the edge on offense as quarterback Jeremy Young complimented the ground attack by completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,609 yards, 12 TD's and 5 INT's. So, if Fletcher is shut down by the Ohio run-stoppers, at least Southern Miss has another offensive dimension.
Ohio's defense ranked first in the MAC in points allowed (17.3), but sixth in passing yards and rushing yards allowed.
Southern Miss was first in CUSA in points allowed with 19.5 per game. The Golden Eagles ranked 3rd in passing yards allowed, but fifth in rushing defense.