M.M. ROBERTS STADIUM – SOUTHERN MISS

The foundation of college football culture is constructed on small campus towns that swell to ten times their size on gamedays. Locations like Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Norman, Oklahoma attract most of the spotlight. But, more impressive are the dots on the map that are typically less hyped, but emit the same passion and pageantry as universities that are consistent gridiron thoroughbreds. Hattiesburg, Mississippi qualifies as one of these special campuses. Located one hour from both the Louisiana and Alabama borders, the University of Southern Mississippi is an underrated hot spot in college football that deserves more of that spotlight.

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Game 315: FIU @ Southern Miss

Neither the Golden Eagles or the Panthers experienced the seasons they had imagined. Southern Miss lost three quarterbacks to injury, and in their most recent game, they rotated four quarterbacks that weren’t even listed at that position on the depth chart. Florida International entered this contest with one win and disgruntled head coach, Butch Davis, coaching in his final game while carrying accusations of a complacent and non-supportive athletic department. The game certainly did not garner national interest, but the passion was palpable as each team filed in to play their final battle of the season.

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Game 197: Southern Miss @ Western Kentucky

Anticipation flooded the Western Kentucky campus for tonight’s matchup. A record crowd showed up for one of the biggest games to ever take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The Hilltoppers’ battle versus Southern Miss put rumps in the seats not only because of the name recognition that the Golden Eagles bring to Houchens Smith Stadium, but also because Western is coming off a monumental upset of their instate rival Kentucky. T-shirts documenting the 32-31 upset could already be-spotted all over campus.

Throngs of fans congested the walkway from the team buses to the stadium as they glued their eyes to the band, mascot, and Hilltopper team strolling their way to the stadium. Stunned by the overwhelming amount of fan support for this matchup, one man exclaimed, “This is the most crowded I’ve ever seen Western! This is crazy man!” What can be defined as crazy or crowded is truly relative. WKU’s website urged fans to come early to avoid traffic and secure a parking spot, but the level of activity seemed no different than most campuses on gameday. However, sellout crowds and massive pregame hype are not the norm in these parts yet, so the university is erring more on the side of caution.

There really was no need for worry as all the festivities flowed smoothly. Fans herded toward the stadium to watch the pregame honoring of Jack Harbaugh, former WKU head coach. Coach Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie, had the stadium club named after them during the ceremony and Jack looked up proudly at the jumbotron as his two NFL coaching sons, John and Jim, praised their father for his outstanding achievements at Western. All the excitement that preceded kickoff made this night one of the greatest in Hilltoppers football lore. The outcome of the game would only add to the good memories. With fireworks blasting and red towels waving, Western Kentucky never let up and gave Southern Miss more than they could handle. Score after score piled up, and the Golden Eagles could only wish the clock could have mercy on them. An impressive 42-17 victory by Western poured more respect into the Sun Belt conference, and gave the Hilltoppers back to back marquee wins. After big wins by Western and fellow conference member, Louisiana Monroe (over Arkansas), the new phrase “Fear the Belt” began to spread. For Western Kentucky, a team still brand new to the FBS level, their stock has risen and a new energy has topped the hills in Bowling Green.