How can Florida State be a 17 point favorite right now with that offense, an interim coach, and a thinning roster playing without their best defensive player Derwin James. Many will point to their last game against LA Monroe to end the season as they won 42-10, but LA Monroe ranked 128th in YPP defense while Southern Miss ranks #31.
Let's also talk about Conference USA who is 4-4 in the bowl games this year. They are 1-4 on the year against ACC, but their weaker teams faced off. Their 2 bowl teams MTSU & Marshall went 1-1. Marshall lost to NC State by 17 points. Southern Miss is better than Marshall, and NC State is better than Florida State having beaten them at Florida State.
Hard to gauge if Florida State is going to be interested. I have no doubt they like the interim coach Odell Haggins, and the players will want to look good for Taggart, but how much effort is this coaching staff really putting in right now against Southern Miss who is much more excited to be here and should have the crowd edge here.
The keys to the game are whether or not Southern Miss can stop the run. Florida State's offensive line has not been very good and Southern Miss had 94 tackles for loss this year. They rank #30 against the run and have beaten 5 teams with better rushing averages than Florida State. Southern Miss also shut down the two power 5 teams they faced in the running game holding both Tennessee and Kentucky to under 3 yards per carry. I think they can have similar success in this game.
For Southern Miss offense they rely heavily on big plays and the steady running game of veteran Ito Smith. Florida State is definitely vulnerable against big plays especially without Derwin James as we saw last year. I think FSU will stop Ito Smith, but could allow some TD's on big plays that will allow Southern Miss to stay in this game. Overall Florida State's wins have come against very poor opponents with an overall average ranking of 75.7 when I average their ratings for (YPP O, YPP D, Rush YPC O&D, QB Rating O&D), and their losses came against an average 37.6. Southern Miss is a balanced team ranking 38.8 and has strengths in the right areas to contend in what I figure would be a low scoring game.
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