Dec. 24
8 p.m.
ESPN               Nevada 17 vs Southern Mississippi 24

 Offense: Nevada boasts an offense that scores nearly 33 points a game and is ranked 8th in the country in rushing. Cody Fajardo took over for Nevada legend Colin Kapernick at quarterback and also provides a dual threat. He took home WAC freshman of the year honors for the Wolf Pack. The leading rusher is Lampford Mark, who has 728 rushing yards and Mike Ball, who has 704. Nevada rushes for more than 250 yards a game. The best threat at receiver is Rishard Matthews, who has caught passes for 1364 yards and 8 touchdowns. Southern Miss is led by senior quarterback Austin Davis, who has passed for 3331 yards and 28 touchdowns for the prolific Golden Eagles. They average 37.8 points a game. His top two receivers are Ryan Balentine and Kelvin Bolden. Jamal Woodyard leads the team is rushing. They are a balanced attack, but love to throw the ball and look for Austin Davis to have a big game.

Defense: Nevada owns defense that has improved over the course of the year. It will be very important to get pressure on Davis, because the secondary could give up big plays. DT Brett Roy will be playing his final game for Nevada and will try to stuff the running game of the Golden Eagles. In the secondary CB Isaiah Fray is a big play threat as he has 5 interceptions and Duke Williams is a strong, strong safety. A top tackler, and linebacker, Brandon M. Marshall will be key to slowing down the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss  needs defensive focus to slow down the rushing attack of Nevada. They stopped Houston's arial attack in the final game of the season, but this is a different task. The unit gave up 34 points to a UAB squad that has won only 3 games all year. LB Ronnie Thornton leads the team with 104 tackles and his linebacking corps will be the key against the Wolf Pack. Cornerback Deron Wilson leads the team with 4 interceptions. The team that forces more turnovers wins this game.


The pick: I like Southern Miss to win this game. I really like Austin Davis and I think the defense is good enough to beat Nevada. If you agree or disagree let me know why by tweeting me @bowlseason or emailing me at . I'll post them if you send them.


We picked Southern Miss. We are now 5-2.




Chris Murray, of the Reno Gazette-Journal answered some questions for us about Nevada.


BS: The Wolf Pack was in control in the WAC with 3 games left, and lost 2 of those. What went wrong in those games and how would you evaluate the season overall?

Chris Murray: The biggest issue in those last two losses was the offense not producing at its usual level. The Wolf Pack scored 20 points in the first loss and 17 in the second. Nevada had trouble with penalties, turnovers and red zone inefficiency for most of the season. It still rolled up lots of yards and dominated time of possession, but didn't score as many points as past years. In the first loss (to Louisiana Tech), the Wolf Pack pass defense was shredded, allowing three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes of the game after building a 20-3 lead. The season would have to be considered a disappointment because Nevada wanted to win the WAC in its final year in the conference. The Wolf Pack lost to Texas Tech, Louisiana Tech and Utah State by a combined nine points. Flip those to wins and Nevada would have finished 10-2 and would consider this a great season. But it wasn't able to finish in close games.


BS: The offense was prolific, with a very balanced attack. How has this offense managed to do so well in life after Kaepernick?

Chris Murray: The Wolf Pack runs an excellent offensive system and has a good offensive line. The team only has one big play-maker in wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who led the WAC in receptions and receiving yards. While the caliber of players on the offense wasn't as good as the caliber last season, Nevada was able to move the ball at will but didn't always cash in those yards into points. The Nevada passing game also is much better this season that past years. That balance has helped the Wolf Pack attack defenses in different ways. Additionally, freshman quarterback Cody Fajardo had a good season and was named the conference freshman of the year. He completed 71 percent of his passes and also did a lot of damage on the ground (he had 11 rushing touchdowns).


BS: The defense has been solid. What does this unit need to do to be successful and who are the key players?

Chris Murray: The Wolf Pack had three All-WAC honorees on defense, including DT Brett Roy (10 sacks, 18.5 TFL), cornerback Isaiah Frey (five interceptions, 18 passes defended) and strong safety Duke Williams (78 tackles, 3.5 TFL). Weakside linebacker Brandon M. Marshall (96 tackles, 7.5 TFL) also had a strong season. Nevada has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback with its front four, which has led to some big plays allowed in the passing game. The defense also hasn't been able to sustain great play over an entire game against good competition. It allowed only 10 combined points in games against UNLV, New Mexico and Idaho, but is allowing closer to 30 points per game against the rest of its schedule. It's a hard-working defense, but the lack of a pure pass rusher has limited the group's ceiling.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Chris Murray: Quarterback Cody Fajardo could be due for a breakout on the national scene. He's the dual-threat quarterback who has gotten better as the season progressed. He didn't get his first start until the fifth game of the season, but has been impressive. He was the L.A. Times' California high school player of the year in 2009 and opted for Nevada over Nebraska and Arizona. He isn't the freak athlete that Colin Kaepernick was, but he makes big plays with his legs. He's also a much more advanced passer than Kaepernick was a freshman. Fajardo missed Nevada's last game with a sprained ankle, but is expected to be ready for the Hawaii Bowl.

Thanks alot to Chris Murray. See his work at and follow @MurrayRGJ .


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