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College Football Preview:East Carolina vs. Southern Miss

Associated Press
GREENVILLE ó While East Carolina certainly considers Southern Mississippi one of its top rivals, coach Skip Holtz isn’t sure whether the Golden Eagles feel the same way.
“You’ve got to win once in a while to make it a rivalry,” Holtz quipped.
If the Pirates want to defend their Conference USA title, they’ll have to add some spice to things today.
East Carolina is one victory from clinching its second consecutive berth in the league title game ó and home-field advantage for that contest ó but standing in the way is Southern Miss, a team the Pirates haven’t beaten in Greenville since 1994.
A loss to the Golden Eagles, though, and it’s Larry Fedora’s team that advances to its first league title game since 2006.
Maybe that’s why, back when the schedule was announced, one game caught Holtz’s attention ó and, surprisingly, it wasn’t any of the high-profile showdowns with North Carolina, Virginia Tech or West Virginia.
“The thing that always caught my eye was playing Southern Miss last,” he said.
This winner-take-all showdown for the East’s spot in the title game seems fitting, because there’s a strong case to be made that East Carolina and Southern Miss have been the most consistent, year-in-and-year-out winners in the division.
The Golden Eagles (7-4, 5-2) already have clinched their 16th straight winning season, and are chasing their fifth C-USA championship and first since 2003. ECU (7-4, 6-1) is assured of its fourth straight bowl trip, made its mark nationally with a pair of huge upsets last year and ó except for 2003 and ’04 ó has finished at .500 or better in league play every season since 1997.
They were the preseason picks to finish 1-2 in the division, and things have shaken out that way. The winner draws either No. 25 Houston or SMU next week with a berth in the Liberty Bowl on the line.

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