2017 Independence Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions: Southern Miss vs. Florida State
Southern Miss Golden Eagles vs. Florida State Seminoles, Wednesday Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET
It's clear which team is better on paper here - the Seminoles have a massive advantage in terms of talent. The big question here, though, is whether Florida State will care about this game enough to make that advantage matter. The whole season has just been a debacle. After starting off ranked third in the nation, they were humiliated by Alabama in the opener, they lost their QB, and they never really recovered. They needed to win their final game just to become bowl eligible. Jimbo Fisher was truly and utterly classless as he left for a big payday at Texas A&M. Distractions have been aplenty.
Now interim coach Odell Haggins, who will likely stay at the school in some role next year, has to try and keep players focused on this game. Willie Taggart was a strong and popular hire - outside of Oregon at least - so players are understandably likely more concerned about next year than this meaningless game. Being in the Independence Bowl is far from a dream situation, and the difference between 6-7 and 7-6 really isn't much - both are disastrous and instantly forgettable. So, we are forced to play amateur psychologist and figure out whether Florida State will show up.
Independence Bowl Betting Storylines
Let's start by touching on Southern Miss. Make no mistake - this is an uninspiring team. They were second in their division in a very bland Conference USA this year. The most interesting team in the conference, Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic, wasn't on the schedule. In their toughest test of the season they were beaten up by Tennessee - and the Volunteers were horrible this year. They have a few nice pieces - Ito Smith could carry the ball for a lot of teams - but they are generally pretty mediocre statistically and to the eye. Many teams have an advantage against the Seminoles in that Florida State takes way too many penalties. Southern Miss gives that advantage up, though, because they were the most penalized team in conference. The only way that they will win this game is if the Seminoles don't care about winning it. Even in the funk they have been in this year there isn't a reason to believe that an upset is brewing here without help. To have any chance at all they are going to have to shut down the run and make the Seminoles pass. Florida State will look to rely heavily on their young running duo of Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick. If they could shut that down and make James Blackman win it with his arm then they could stand a chance. But the Golden Eagles are just barely in the Top 25 in rush defense, and Florida State will pile up the yards.
Florida State is going to be short of a couple of nice pieces. Continuing the trend started last year, we are seeing some top players skipping bowl games to stay healthy and prepare for the draft. The Seminoles are set to have two take a pass on this opportunity to play one last game. DB Derwin James and linebacker Josh Sweat have both announced that they won't be playing. With those changes as the impetus, the team has made some other shuffles in the depth chart, looking to learn what they have for next year as much as anything else. Looking towards next year means we could see a less-experienced lineup, but we should also see a bit more motivation as players are looking to secure playing time next year.
Independence Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Florida State favored by more than two touchdowns at 14.5. It has been on a slow and steady climb and now sits at 16.5 as I write this . A small majority of bets have been on the Seminoles, so we aren't likely to see a big move without significant news. The total opened at 49 and has been stable in early betting at that level.
Southern Miss is 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five nonconference games, but they are just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five bowl games. The "under" is 5-0-1 in their last six nonconference games. The Seminoles are 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 bowl games but just 3-7-2 ATS in their last 12 games overall and 2-6 ATS in their last eight neutral-site games. They have gone under the total in five of their last seven bowl games.
Southern Miss vs. Florida State Independence Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I have not liked very much about this Florida State season - obviously - and I hate trusting teams with interim coaches. I just can't get excited about this Southern Miss team, though, and don't like their chances of keeping this one interesting for four quarters. I don't want to trust the Seminoles, but I trust Southern Miss' ability to keep it close even less. The Seminoles are the play against the spread, but I won't be mortgaging the house to play this one.
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