- Matt Fortuna, College Football
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Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nevada take: Coming off a 13-1 record-breaking season, the Wolfpack started this season 6-3 and in control of the Western Athletic Conference, looking to clinch their second straight conference title. Then they blew a 20-3 home lead to eventual conference champion Louisiana Tech, and they lost by four at Utah State the next week, too. Running back Mike Ball was kicked off the team prior to the Utah State team for violating team rules. He had 704 yards and three touchdowns and was a force on kickoff returns as well.
A brutal four-game road stretch to open the season -- which included games against Oregon and Boise State -- led to a 1-3 start, with the lone win coming by three at San Jose State.
Freshman Cody Fajardo emerged as the starting quarterback over Tyler Lantrip and has completed better than 71 percent of his passes for 1,647 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 680 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nevada scored at least 37 points in five straight games with Fajardo under center. After two straight losses, the Wolfpack closed the season with a 56-3 win Saturday over Idaho. Their rushing offense, keyed by Chris Ault's vaunted pistol attack, ranks eighth nationally. They averaged more than 522 total yards per game, good for fifth nationally.
Southern Miss take: There's a reason Larry Fedora's name has been mentioned so often for other job openings. He had already led the Golden Eagles to their first 10-win season since 1952 and only their third in school history. It then all culminated with a 49-28 thrashing of undefeated Houston in Saturday's Conference USA title game, giving the Golden Eagles their first-ever 11-win season.
Southern Miss is going bowling for the 10th straight year, the longest active streak in the conference. That is thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Austin Davis, who has re-written the school record books and threw four touchdown passes in the victory over the Cougars. He now has the single-season school record for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,331).
Ronnie Thornton's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday was Southern Miss' eighth pick-six of the year, an NCAA record. The defense's quick adjustment to first-year coordinator Dan Disch and his 4-2-5 look has paid dividends early.
"We knew in making that change that there wouldn't be time for a learning curve so we told the kids, 'There is not time for a learning curve you’re going to have to spend whatever free time you have learning this system as quickly as possible,' " Fedora said last week. "They all bought in. They were excited about it and they learned it very quickly you have to give credit to Dan Disch and the defensive staff for making things simple."
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (11-2)Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)Nevada take: Coming off a 13-1 record-breaking season, the Wolfpack started this season 6-3 and in control of the Western Athletic Conference, looking to clinch their second straight conference title.