The Walk-On’s Independence Bowl was not initially on the University of Southern Mississippi’s radar when it came to possible postseason destinations.
But down the stretch of the season, as it became clear that the Southeastern Conference was going to have trouble supplying teams for its bowl tie-ins, the Golden Eagles popped up on the Independence Bowl’s post-Christmas list.
Sunday evening, the Golden Eagles were extended an invitation to play in the 42nd edition of the 11th-oldest bowl game on the Football Bowl Subdivision’s postseason calendar to take on a familiar, but long-absent-from-the-schedule foe, Florida State University
Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 27 in Shreveport, La.
“I love the matchup,” USM athletic director Jon Gilbert said. “It’s one of those matchups that we wouldn’t normally get. This bowl is outside the normal bowl allotment, so we’re really excited about going to the Independence Bowl and really excited about the opponent.
“It’s a great measuring stick for our program to play a school like Florida State.”
The Seminoles opened as a 15-point favorite over the Golden Eagles.
USM (8-4) will be making its third appearance in Independence Stadium, having defeated McNeese State University 16-14 in 1980 and the University of Texas-El Paso 38-18 in 1988.
FSU (6-6), which became bowl-eligible last weekend with a make-up game victory over the University of Louisiana-Monroe, will be making its 36th consecutive appearance in a bowl game but its first in the Independence Bowl.
USM coach Jay Hopson, who has been on the road recruiting this week, said the Golden Eagles landed in a great bowl game.
“You’re happy to be bowling, anytime, anywhere, but certainly, we are definitely pleased to be at the Independence Bowl,” Hopson said during a phone call Monday night. “It’s a good situation, close to our fan base. Certainly, it’s always fun when you play a bowl game close to your fan base.”
The Independence Bowl had been scheduled to pit an SEC team against one from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams were bowl-eligible, but two, the University of Georgia and University of Alabama, were tapped for the national college playoff, leaving the conference short on filling its numerous tie-ins.
Along with its six, “primary” bowl tie-ins, Conference USA had a “secondary” agreement with the Independence Bowl that allowed for a C-USA team to be selected for the game if the SEC or the ACC could not provide a team.
Both Gilbert and Hopson said just such contingency talks had taken place with the Independence Bowl
“I don’t think we were surprised (Sunday), but you never know in a bowl scenario,” Hopson said. “We’re certainly at a site that we wanted to be at and we’re excited to be at Shreveport. We had certainly talked to the Independence Bowl and they knew we wanted to be there and they wanted us there.”
“Certainly, we didn’t know who are opponent would be. We thought it would probably be an ACC football team, and certainly, it’s an honor to be playing a Florida State team that has our respect."
The game marks the 23rd meeting between USM and FSU, who first played in 1952, but had met last in 1996. FSU leads the series 13-8-1.
The Golden Eagles won six of the first nine meetings with one tie, but the Seminoles took 11 of the last 13 meetings, including a 54-14 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium in the 1996 regular-season finale in Tallahassee, Fla.
But the two USM victories in FSU’s dominant stretch proved two of the most memorable victories in program history, let alone the series.
In 1981, Reggie Collier led the 16th-ranked Golden Eagles to a 58-14 win over 20th-ranked FSU before 51,000-plus and a national television audience. In the 1989 season opener, Brett Favre threw a last-minute touchdown pass to knock off the Seminoles 30-26 in a game that USM had been paid to move from Hattiesburg to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
The season has been a chaotic and disappointing one for the Seminoles, who opened the year ranked No. 3 in the nation, but lost quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury in a season-opening loss to the University of Alabama.
Friday, FSU lost head coach Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M University, but multiple reports Tuesday say the Seminoles will introduce Willie Taggart as their new coach Wednesday.
Taggart had spent the 2016 season at the University of Oregon after previous stints as head coach at Western Kentucky University and the University of South Florida. USM faced a Taggart-coached WKU team in 2012.
The Independence Bowl paid its participants $1.2 million last year, and the projected payout this season is $1.485 million.
Under C-USA’s postseason revenue-sharing formula, Gilbert said the bowl payout goes into the conference postseason pool, which is then divvied up between the league’s 14 teams at the end of the year. Under the revenue-sharing formula, C-USA also pays USM’s expenses associated with the bowl.
Gilbert said USM will keep up to the first $100,000 in ticket sales, and then split 50-50 any sales over that with the conference.
“The payout is a little larger then some of the normal bowls,” Gilbert said. “We get to keep anything $100,000 or less (in ticket sales) and then we go into a revenue share with the conference.
Bowl tickets went on sale Sunday, Gilbert said. “We’ve got a priority deadline of Friday, and we’ve had some robust sales, so I look for a really good turnout.”
The Golden Eagles will hold the first three of 15 bowl practices this week, starting Thursday. The team will travel to Shreveport Dec. 23 in the run-up to the game.
“In college football, you’re always going to spend your Christmases on the road," Hopson said. “Well, you’re going to spend your Christmases or New Years on the road, and that means good things are happening. So, that’s always a good thing, not a bad thing.”
(All times CST)
Dec. 16 (Saturday)
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans)
North Texas University (9-4) vs. Troy University (10-2), noon (ESPN)
Auto Nation Cure Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)
Georgia State University (6-5) vs. Western Kentucky University (6-6), 1:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Marshall University (7-5) vs. Colorado State University (7-5), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.)
Middle Tennessee State University (6-6) vs. Arkansas State University (7-4), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 19 (Tuesday)
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, Fla.)
Florida Atlantic University (10-3) vs. University of Akron (7-6), 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 20 (Wednesday)
DXL Frisco Bowl (Frisco, Texas)
Louisiana Tech University (6-6) vs. Southern Methodist University (7-6), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 21 (Thursday)
Bad Boys Mowers Gaspirilla Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Florida International University (8-4) vs. Temple University (6-6), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 22 (Friday)
Bahamas Bowl (Nassau, Bahamas)
University of Alabama-Birmingham (8-4) vs. Ohio University (8-6), 11:30 a.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 27 (Wednesday)
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.)
University of Southern Mississippi (8-4) vs. Florida State University (6-6), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)
(All times CST)
Dec. 27 (Wednesday)
Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl (Houston)
University of Missouri (7-5) vs. University of Texas (6-6), 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 29 (Friday)
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.)
Texas A&M University (7-5) vs. Wake Forest University (7-5), noon (ESPN)
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.)
University of Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern University (9-3), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 30 (Saturday)
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Mississippi State University (8-4) vs. University of Louisville (8-4), 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Jan. 1 (Monday)
Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.)
University of South Carolina (8-4) vs. University of Michigan (8-4), 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
Auburn University (10-3) vs. University of Central Florida (12-0), 11:30 a.m. (ESPN)
Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)
Louisiana State University (9-3) vs. Notre Dame University (9-3), noon (ABC)
Rose Bowl Game (Pasadena, Calif.)^
University of Georgia (12-1) vs. University of Oklahoma (12-1), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans)^
University of Alabama (11-1) vs. Clemson University (12-1), 7:45 p.m. (ESPN)
^ FBS semifinal game