Estes: Eagle fans will invade Liberty Bowl

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Throw the Liberty Bowl gates open &045; Golden Eagles fans are expected to pour in for the Dec. 31 feature in Memphis, Tenn.

Honest, the USM-Utah contest stacks up as a really good college football battle. In fact, Utah, Mountain West Conference champions, are prancing high in anticipation of a real head-knocker for Liberty Bowl fans that day.

Memphis is handy for as many Hattiesburg area faithful as want to see the game. Natchez, etc., areas as well. There’s always plenty of interest in the Memphis extravaganza, so check the pregame ink.

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USM is already putting together big plans for its fans’ gatherings. More than 21,000 Golden Eagles fans swooped into Memphis back in 1997 when the Eagles walloped Pittsburgh 41-7. Watch ’em do the same thing this year in Memphis. Perhaps not so convincingly, but still ahead on the scoreboard.

Prediction: USM, 9-3, to beat 9-2 Utah, 24-13. Utah, you can bet, knows USM is for real. And not to take anything from the Mountain West Conference, but my feeling is

that the Eagles have played in a stronger league. They better had.

If the Golden Eagles do for a fact show up ready for the Utes, those of us who hang around to watch on television will have fun. Not as much fun as those in the stands, but plenty anyway. The Eagles are labeled the hosts, you know.

Ole Miss, in the meantime, claimed a share of the SEC West title by beating Mississippi State 31-0 Thanksgiving night. The Rebels defensed the breath out of the Bulldogs this time around. In fact, the shutout was a surprise in some quarters.

Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe quietly does his job and simply goes on about the business of practices-after-games. About 54,000 fans piled into Scott Field at Starkville recently to watch the 17th-ranked Rebels shutout the Bulldogs 31-0 and start preparing for the next stop.

Many Southern fans reside in the Memphis area, so a huge Liberty Bowl following is assured for the Golden Eagles. &8220;We have a great history with Southern Miss,&8221; Liberty Bowl executive director Harold Graeter stated. &8220;Obviously we’re thrilled to have them (the Eagles).&8221;

Back in 1997, 21,000 Golden Eagle fans watched at the Liberty Bowl as USM thrashed Pittsburgh 41-7.

So watch the Golden Eagles as they go for yet another Liberty Bowl title. You can bet it’ll be on TV. I’m bettin’ on it, anyway.

Southern’s C-USA champions are 9-3 overall and 8-0 in the conference and have a streak of 10 straight winning seasons and six bowl bids in the last seven seasons.

USM head coach Jeff Bower can point, but he won’t, to a record of 9-3 and 8-0 in the conference. No, he won’t bask in the limelight; he’s not turned that way.

At any rate, those of us that like to be called Mississippians and Mississippi football fans go for times like this. When one Mississippi school isn’t hanging around at the top, another one is.

Today it has been fun calling attention to the great season by C-USA champion, the University of Southern Mississippi. I’ll take a seat in front of my age-old Underwood Five at times like this anytime … All down through the years.

Glenvall Estes is a longtime columnist for The Natchez Democrat.