Southern Mississippi had just finished a light walkthrough, and with the New Orleans Bowl a day away, coach Jeff Bower took a moment to...

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LAFAYETTE, La. — Southern Mississippi had just finished a light walkthrough, and with the New Orleans Bowl a day away, coach Jeff Bower took a moment to reflect.

“With all the adversity that everybody in New Orleans has gone through, I’m thankful to the city of Lafayette for opening their arms up to this bowl and hosting this game,” Bower said Monday. “Because if those things don’t happen, there are two teams that are at home today.”

The Golden Eagles (6-5) will face Arkansas State tonight in the first of this season’s 28 bowl games — and each team feels it has a special opportunity. The New Orleans Bowl was moved to Lafayette because of Hurricane Katrina, and while Southern Mississippi is playing in it for the second straight season, not much else about the game is familiar.

New Orleans Bowl

Southern Miss (6-5) vs. Arkansas St. (6-5)

Time/site/TV: 5 p.m. today; Lafayette, La.; ESPN.

Surface: Grass.

Line: Southern Miss by 17.

Payout per team: $750,000.

Bowl records: Arkansas State, first major-college bowl; Southern Miss 6-9.

Series: Southern Miss leads 6-2, and won the last meeting 35-0 in 1980.

Analysis: Hurricane Katrina damage forced the relocation of this game that kicks off the bowl season. For the first time in its five-year history, a team other than North Texas represents the Sun Belt. The Golden Eagles handled the Mean Green 31-10 in this bowl last year and could do likewise to Arkansas State if RBs Antonio Warren and Shermar Bracey can’t find room to operate early. The Coley twins, LB Kevis and SS Trevis, lead the Southern Miss defense. They will play close to the line of scrimmage and force Indians QB Nick Noce to beat them via the air. Golden Eagles QB Dustin Almond hopes to conclude an up-and-down career on a high note.

Extra point: Arkansas State has a 3-4-1 record from mostly defunct small-college bowls. The most recent was a 48-21 loss to Georgia Southern in the 1986 Diamond Bowl, a game played at the Tacoma Dome for the Division I-AA title.

Gannett News Service

The Golden Eagles’ opponent this year is one of the nation’s unlikeliest postseason teams. North Texas represented the Sun Belt Conference in the first four New Orleans Bowls, but Arkansas State (6-5) shared the league title with Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette this season — and won the tiebreaker.

“I have to really commend Arkansas State on what they did this season,” said Terrance Ford, Southern Mississippi defensive tackle. “Great things have happened for them this year.”

Indians coach Steve Roberts said, “We’re representing a lot of groups. We’re representing all the underdogs. We’re representing the state of Arkansas. We’re representing the Sun Belt Conference. We’re representing a lot of frustrated fans for the last 30 years or so that haven’t been to a bowl game.”

Arkansas State linebacker Chris Littleton was arrested on two misdemeanors for allegedly assaulting a law officer who was breaking up a fight on the team bus. Roberts said Littleton probably will play.

Southern Mississippi had two postponements because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and had to play its final nine regular-season games in a nine-week stretch.


• The attorney representing Texas defensive back Cedric Griffin and tailback Ramonce Taylor said he has been assured by the Austin Police Department that no charges will be filed against the players in connection with a Dec. 10 incident.

Attorney Ken Oden of Austin said, “The department has determined that no arrests will be made and no charges will be filed.”

Oden said the information collected by the police will be forwarded to the Travis County district attorney’s office to determine if any further review is necessary. Oden has said an alleged incident at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 10 was nothing more than a “testosterone-charged moment of trash talk.” Police were investigating whether Griffin was asking people on the street for $5 for some pizza and whether a group of young men who came across Griffin took offense, and if some words and a physical exchange might have ensued.

• In an unrelated matter, Texas receiver Myron Hardy, a sophomore who is redshirting this season, has been charged with a Class A misdemeanor. He allegedly was carrying a prohibited weapon.

• USC tailback Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner, added The Associated Press Player of the Year award to his honors. Bush received 59 votes from a panel of 65 media members.

Texas quarterback Vince Young received five votes and Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley got the other.

• Colorado senior quarterback Joel Klatt, who absorbed a hard hit to the head from Texas linebacker Drew Kelson on Dec. 3 in the Big 12 title game, termed the NCAA “a terribly run organization.”

Klatt added, “If they want to exploit us as athletes and sell our jerseys and put us on video games, then perhaps they should protect us on the field better, so that we can, in the future, get that compensation and possibly go to the NFL.”

Klatt said he continues to have “a little bit of dizziness, a pretty sustained headache and things of that nature.”