Louisville (6-6) returns to postseason play for the first time since the 2007 Orange Bowl on Tuesday night against former Conference USA rival Southern Miss (8-4). The teams nearly came to blows this week in what was supposed to be an innocuous dance-off contest as part of some beach-side activities, so this game could have more competitive fire than it probably deserves.
WHO TO WATCH: Louisville running back Bilal Powell. The Florida native will be playing his last college game in St. Petersburg, not far from his hometown of Lakeland, and he is a great example of someone who overcame a rough upbringing to accomplish his goals. Powell had never rushed for as much as 400 yards in a season before new coach Charlie Strong anointed him as the face of the program this spring. The senior responded with 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. His combination of power and speed should make him an NFL draft pick next spring.
WHAT TO WATCH: The chess match between Strong, a former Florida defensive coordinator, and Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, a former Gators offensive coordinator. The Golden Eagles finished 15th in the country in scoring at more than 37.5 points per game. The Cardinals were 15th in scoring defense, allowing fewer than 19 points per game. Both coaches are among the best in the business at what they do, and whichever style wins out should carry the day.
WHY TO WATCH: Louisville is a program on the rise again under Strong and could be competing for Big East titles very soon. Southern Miss is a consistently solid non-AQ program that likes to light up the scoreboard. Given the history and the apparent current bad blood between these schools, plus the divergent styles of play, this game has a chance to be pretty entertaining.
PREDICTION: The Cardinals are a senior-laden squad full of veteran guys who are excited to play in their first bowl game. Strong's defense will limit Southern Miss' high-octane output, and Powell will run over the questionable Golden Eagles defense. Louisville wins 31-21.