The winner of Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl will get an extra lift on the recruiting trail before national signing day Feb. 3.
Southern Miss (6-6) takes on Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6) in football for the first time since 2008 at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The two programs have often crossed paths on the recruiting trail over the last five years and especially on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
You can make the argument that ULL was more active recruiting Mississippi’s southernmost six counties for a significant stretch with the signings of players like Daniel and Mykhael Quave, two former ULL offensive linemen from Gautier who played their final college seasons in 2014 and 2015. There are two Coast natives on the ULL’s current roster: Former Harrison Central standout LaDarius Kidd, a key part of the ULL defensive line before an injury cut short his redshirt sophomore season, and Gulfport product Kaleb Hendricks, a redshirt freshman linebacker.
While ULL has made inroads recruiting the Coast, USM has made up plenty of ground in the area over the last three years. There has also been a spike in football talent on the Coast during that time.
Just last week, Biloxi senior receiver Tim Jones verbally committed to the Golden Eagles over the Ragin’ Cajuns. Former D’Iberville defensive lineman Jacques Turner picked USM over ULL this past past February.
There was a time when the ULL football program was an afterthought in the region and incapable of hanging with USM on field and the off.
The last time ULL and USM met in football was the opener of Larry Fedora’s first season as USM head coach in 2008. Austin Davis made an impressive debut as the USM quarterback that day, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns and running for 63 yards and two touchdowns. The final score — Southern Miss 51, ULL 21.
Southern Miss has dominated the all-time series 39-11-1. While USM was steady turning out winning seasons in football, ULL was usually stumbling through the dark.
When you consider that ULL had to vacate 22 victories due to NCAA rules violations from 2011-14, the Cajuns have only had four seasons of seven wins or more since joining Division 1-A in 1982.
The Golden Eagles have have hit the seven-win mark 22 times during that stretch.
ULL has been much more formidable in football since Mark Hudspeth was hired as head coach in 2011, leading the Cajuns to five New Orleans Bowls in six years on the job.
His tenure has been tainted by an NCAA investigation and the Cajuns have fallen off the last two years with a combined record of 10-14, but they’ll always be a thorn in USM’s side as long as Hudspeth is in charge in Lafayette due to his deep Mississippi ties. He is a native of Louisville and a former assistant at Mississippi State and Delta State.
Future conference mates?
I’ve written multiple columns that argue USM should ditch the geographic mess that is Conference USA and look into helping create a more regional conference.
It makes sense that ULL would be involved in a regional outfit considering the Golden Eagles and Ragin’ Cajuns have two of the more devoted followings among the Group of Five schools in the Southeast. USM has the best football fan support in Conference USA and ULL typically ranks near the top of the Sun Belt in attendance.
There will probably be in the neighborhood of 40,000 fans on hand Saturday in New Orleans and athletic directors across C-USA and the Sun Belt should take notice. It’s making less and less sense for games like Appalachian State-Texas State and UTEP-FAU to be played in largely empty stadiums.
C-USA and the Sun Belt should seriously consider merging and creating a subdivided league or dissolve and allow more regional conferences to form.
Who: Southern Miss vs. UL-Lafayette
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans