Southern Miss will take on the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. in the 16th annual R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for their 24th bowl appearance in school history, the most among C-USA schools.
“I am extremely proud of the 2016 Golden Eagle football team and very excited to get the invitation to play in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson in a press release. “It is a great destination bowl and the Golden Eagle football family is excited to continue our season in the City of New Orleans.”
The Golden Eagles became bowl-eligible after their 39-24 upset victory over C-USA Western Division champions Louisiana Tech to give them a bowl-eligible 6-6 record. The Golden Eagles are one of seven C-USA teams to be going into postseason play, along with Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio.
Louisiana-Lafayette also finished their season 6-6 with a season finale win over Louisiana Monroe, 30-3. Notable wins for the Ragin’ Cajuns were Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and South Alabama, but a three-game losing streak mid-season put Louisiana-Lafayette in fighting terms for bowl eligibility in the last week of the season.
The Golden Eagles also had a rocky season after starting 4-1 through the first five games, but injuries and adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff, among a myriad of factors, led to the Golden Eagles stumbling to a 6-6 record in 2016 after a 9-5 record in 2015.
Southern Miss can point to a mid-season concussion to Nick Mullens or injuries to players like D.J. Thompson and Draper Riley as reasons why the Golden Eagles finished with a .500 record. But, the resolve of the team to defeat La. Tech after dropping three straight gave Hopson a bright spot for the year.
“We were in our darkest hour and everybody on this football team came out with a positive attitude,” Hopson said. “I’m just blessed to be a part of these young men. It’s been a long tough road, but a great finish.”
It will be the 52nd time that Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Miss have played on the gridiron, with USM holding a decisive 39-11-1 lead dating back to 1923. The Golden Eagles also have not been to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl since 2009 and it will be the fifth time USM will play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on the occasion.
“I’m proud of the way our players and coaches fought through adversity throughout the season to earn the opportunity to play in this game,” said Southern Miss Athletic Director Bill McGillis. “The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl should be both a terrific match-up on the field and a sensational atmosphere and environment off the field, with both programs supported by very passionate fan bases.”