SOUTHERN MISS GOLDEN EAGLES
Record: 11-2, 6-2 C-USA
You gave Southern Miss a chance in the Conference USA championship game, right? Nobody outside Hattiesburg did. But the Golden Eagles pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, beating No. 6 Houston 49-28 to win its fifth league championship but first C-USA title game. It was an impressive defensive performance, one that featured the team's eighth interception return of the season to set a FBS record.
The win gave Southern Miss a school record 11 wins. The school had only two 10-win seasons over its first 100 years since the program began. This also is the program's 18th straight winning season, the fourth longest streak in the FBS behind Florida State, Florida and Virginia Tech. What is hard to believe is this team could have been undefeated, if not for losses against one team that finished .500 and another that had a losing record.
Offensive MVP: Austin Davis, QB. Davis has set just about every career quarterback record in school history and passed single-season marks against Houston for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,331). It was the third time in his career Davis threw four touchdown passes in a game. He also added 332 yards rushing on the season and three touchdowns on the ground as Southern Miss went over 6,000 yards of total offense for the first time in school history.
Defensive MVP: Cordarro Law, LB. Law had 17.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 7.5 sacks for the Golden Eagles, and he was unstoppable against Houston, with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a hurry. Defensive back Marquese Wheaton deserves mention as well after registering three touchdowns on the season off two interceptions and one blocked field goal return.
Turning point: A 48-28 win over East Carolina. The victory was the seventh in a row for the Golden Eagles after they dropped an early game against Marshall, and essentially allowed them to take control of the East Division. This game also featured two interceptions returned for a touchdown. Jamie Collins returned one 97 yards for a score, and Deron Wilson had one that went 79 yards as the Golden Eagles used their opportunistic defense to help them win.
What’s next: Southern Miss will head to its 10th straight bowl game, playing Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. But the Golden Eagles may have to start looking for a new coach. Larry Fedora is reportedly the choice at North Carolina after four seasons at Southern Miss. They will also lose Davis and Law, the backbone of their team this season, so there will be plenty of changes for 2012.