- By Associated Press
Florida State’s season started with national championship aspirations but will instead end in relative obscurity against Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl on Wednesday.
The Seminoles freely acknowledge it’s been a tough few months. They’re also adamant the disappointment won’t carry over to the field when they face the Golden Eagles.
“We are here to win,” Florida State defensive end Brian Burns said. “We’ve got to dig down deep and get that win.”
Florida State (6-6, 3-5 ACC) will play without some of its top defensive players, including second-team AP All-American safety Derwin James, who declared for the NFL draft and opted not to play in the bowl game.
The Seminoles will try to slow a Southern Miss offense that’s led by running back Ito Smith. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior has run for nearly 4,500 yards in his career, including 1,323 this season.
“We’re not expecting one person to try and (stop Smith), we’re expecting everybody,” Florida State interim coach Odell Haggins said. “We’re a team. We play team defense. We’re going to play together.”
Florida State has won four of its past five games since starting the season with a 2-5 record.
Southern Miss (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) gets a prime opportunity to knock off a team from a power conference. The Golden Eagles regularly play teams from the Power Five conferences, losing to Kentucky (24-17) and Tennessee (24-10) earlier this year.
Southern Miss earned one of the biggest wins in program history in 1989 when a team led by quarterback Brett Favre beat No. 6 Florida State 30-26. The Golden Eagles hope for a similar result on Wednesday.
“It’s great to have an opportunity to show who we are,” Smith said.
Here are a few more things to watch when Florida State faces Southern Miss:
WATCHING FOR AKERS: Florida State’s Cam Akers has emerged as the top option in the Seminoles’ backfield, running for 930 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Akers — who was one of the top-rated recruits in the nation last year — is familiar to several players and coaches on the Southern Miss roster. Akers played in high school in Clinton, Miss., which is less than two hours from the Southern Miss campus.
TAGGERT’S WATCHING: The Independence Bowl will be a prime opportunity for Florida State players to impress Willie Taggart, the program’s new coach. Taggart replaces Jimbo Fisher, who left earlier this month to take the Texas A&M job. Taggart won’t coach in Wednesday’s game but has been around the program during bowl workouts.
BOWL STREAKS: Florida State is making its 36th consecutive bowl appearance, which is the longest streak in the nation. The Seminoles have won seven of their past nine in the postseason. Southern Miss has played in a bowl game during 13 of the last 16 seasons.
WINNING STREAKS: Southern Miss won three straight games to end the regular season, beating Rice, Charlotte and Marshall. Florida State also comes into the Independence Bowl on a three-game winning streak, beating Delaware State, Florida and Louisiana-Monroe. The Seminoles have scored 157 points over the past three games, which is the highest scoring three-game stretch for the program since 2013.