A season of turmoil culminates for Southern Miss.
LAFAYETTE, La. -- Maybe it was fitting that a few Southern Mississippi players and coaches arrived a day later than the rest for the New Orleans Bowl.
For the 2005 Golden Eagles, very little has gone according to plan.
"It was difficult, but I'm proud to be here," coach Jeff Bower said Sunday. "I'm proud of our players -- how they did, how they finished up and got themselves bowl eligible and got another opportunity to play another game."
Southern Mississippi will face Arkansas State (6-5) in the New Orleans Bowl on Tuesday night, the conclusion of a season thrown into turmoil by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Even now, the Golden Eagles are still feeling the effects. Most team members arrived in Lafayette on Saturday, but some remained on campus an extra day -- in part because of recruiting visits rescheduled after the storms.
And Southern Mississippi's bowl? It had to change homes because of Katrina. The New Orleans Bowl was moved to Lafayette this year, making it an appropriate match for the Golden Eagles after their crazy regular season.
"There's been a lot of adjustments in schedules and in plans," Bower said Sunday. "Obviously they did a great job, and Lafayette really helped out in hosting the bowl here. There was a lot of similarities -- no doubt."
Southern Mississippi (6-5) is trying to win its second straight New Orleans Bowl. The Golden Eagles beat North Texas 31-10 last season. This year's bowl bid could have been more prestigious, but Southern Mississippi lost four close games -- each by less than 10 points.
Still, the Golden Eagles welcome any type of bowl this season.
"I've never been through one like it," Bower said. "I think we made good adjustments and our players were resilient and handled it well."
Southern Mississippi was supposed to open against Tulane on Sept. 4, but the game was postponed after Hurricane Katrina knocked out electricity in Hattiesburg, Miss., the Golden Eagles' home.
The team practiced at Memphis briefly before splitting its first two games. Then, Hurricane Rita hit Texas, and Southern Mississippi's Sept. 24 game at Houston was postponed.
"We've overcome a lot of adversity," quarterback Dustin Almond said. "We look at it as a challenge, not as a setback."
After the second postponement, Southern Mississippi played its final nine regular-season games in nine weeks -- including a stretch of three road games in 12 days. The Golden Eagles became bowl eligible with a 26-7 win in the regular-season finale, a makeup of the postponed opener against Tulane.
Now, Southern Mississippi can look back on a difficult season and focus on the accomplishments -- a 5-3 record in Conference USA and a fourth straight bowl appearance. The Golden Eagles opened as a 17½-point favorite over Arkansas State, which shared the Sun Belt Conference championship with Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette.
"I think we did a pretty good job of overcoming adversity," Southern Mississippi defensive back Trevis Coley said. "The season didn't go quite as well as we wanted it to go. But hey, we're here at a bowl game, and that's one of our goals."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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