Nov. 10, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John Cox
Everyone is getting ready for a busy weekend on campus and of course gearing up for the football game between the Golden Eagles and the Knights of UCF. Saturday night's game will be just the seventh meeting in history between the two schools and the first meeting was only seven years ago in 2005.
That first game was the most lopsided of the series as the Golden Eagles rolled to a 52-31 win in The Rock. Last season, the Golden Eagles traveled down to Orlando to defeated UCF 31-21 after rallying from an early 14-point deficit. The Knights were ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll.
Speaking of rankings, the first time that the Golden Eagles were ever ranked as a Division I (FBS) program was during the 1980 season. That week the Golden Eagles debuted in the Associated Press and United Press international polls at No. 20 (they only had 20 spots back then) and traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to met No. 1 Alabama - the only time that the Golden Eagles have ever faced the No. 1 team in the country. Many people believed that Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant had done some politicking to help the Golden Eagles garner enough votes to get into the Top 20 as a way to help him motivate his team to prepare for the matchup.
Both teams entered the game with perfect 6-0 records and the game attracted a great deal of national attention. Alabama scored first, but the Eagles answered with a 75-yard drive that culminated with a Sammy Winder 1-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. But it was downhill from there for the Eagles, as the Tide proved that they deserved their ranking by crushing the USM squad 42-7 and knocking the Eagles from the polls. The Golden Eagles had contributed to their demise by losing three fumbles, and Head Coach Bobby Collins acknowledged after the game, "We said all along, you can't win if you make mistakes and give them blood transfusions."
The Golden Eagles returned to the rankings the next season (1981) when they jumped into the polls after a 22-0 win at North Texas on Oct. 31. The win vaulted them to No. 20 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the UPI poll. That season saw the Golden Eagles reach their first-ever Top 10 ranking when they defeated Mississippi State in Jackson's Memorial Stadium 7-6 before 64,112 excited spectators, at the time the largest crowd to ever see a sporting event in Mississippi. The victory over the Bulldogs moved Southern Miss to No. 14 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the UPI rankings.
The next week playing in front of the ABC-TV cameras, as well as Tangerine Bowl officials, who indicated they would be interested in the winner of the contest, the Golden Eagles met Florida State on Nov. 14 in Tallahassee. The Eagles scored on their first seven possessions and trounced the Seminoles, who had beaten Ohio State and Notre Dame on the road. The next AP rankings had the Golden Eagles at No. 9, while the UPI had them at No. 8, the highest ranking the school has ever received as a Division I (FBS) school.
The Golden Eagles have finished ranked in the final AP poll on two occasions, 19th in the 1997 rankings and 14th in the 1999 rankings. Three times they have finished in the final USA Today/ESPN Coaches' poll, in 1988 (24th), 1997 (19th) and in 1999 (13th). The Golden Eagles also finished 19th in the 1981 final UPI poll.
The BCS (Bowl Championship series) rankings began in 1998 and the Golden Eagles first appeared in those rankings following a 30-27 win over Louisville on Nov. 20, 1999, in the 15th spot, but fell out of the rankings the following week and in the final rankings. They appeared once in the 2000 rankings at No. 14 and again once in 2004 at No. 23. Of course, this year's team is currently No. 22 in the BCS rankings, after entering the week before at No. 25, the first time they have ever appeared in back-to-back BCS rankings.
The Golden Eagles did win pair of UPI College Division National Championships in 1958 and 1962 and almost won two championships during that 1962 campaign. They almost won the AP title that year as well, rising to as high as No. 2, but they wound up fourth.
Also this weekend, basketball season gets under way on Saturday for the Golden Eagles when they host Spring Hill. It's the 67th time that the Golden Eagles and the Badgers have played in a series that dates back to the 1937-38 season. The Golden Eagles have won 49 of the previous 66 meetings. Just in case you are interested, in the first meeting between the two teams on January 20, 1938, Southern won 61-26 as A.D. Bell, who was also an end of the football team, scored 23 points, then the following night in the second game of the two-game series in Hattiesburg, Southern won 42-19 as Bell scored 15 points and Bill Leach, a tackle on the football team, added 10 points. The Golden Eagles were coached by Reed Green.
This week on the Southern Miss IMG Sports Network, we will have the basketball game against Spring Hill on Saturday with an 11:30 a.m., broadcast time with our pre-game show; the broadcast of the football game against UCF begins at 5:30 p.m., with the Golden Eagle Tailgate Show. On the pre-game this week, we will remember the 1936 football game against Spring Hill on great moments in Southern Miss Football and feature senior defensive back Cameron O'Neal on the "Golden Eagle Close Up." We will get the "Inside Scoop" from running backs coach and special teams' coordinator Pat Washington and visit with Eugene Smith, former Golden Eagle assistant coach (1981-1987) as we "Meet an Eagle of the Past." Of course, we also will visit with Coach Fedora prior to the game as we get his thoughts about the game with UCF.
Enjoy the weekend.
Southern Miss to the Top!