NEW ORLEANS, LA (WLOX) - Regardless of who is in charge in Hattiesburg, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles faithful still hold the bragging rights of being the best in the conference. USM earned the best home attendance average (28,334) among the 13 Conference USA members in 2016.
In fact, it's the second-consecutive year in which more than 28,000 made their way to The Rock to catch a Southern Miss football game.
Winning season or not, there is black and gold aplenty in the stands. Even in the nauseating year of 2012, Southern Miss was top five in attendance in Conference USA.
"I remember seeing fans in the stands when we were 0-12, (and) I hated looking in the stands because I knew they were all let down," Southern Miss senior wide receiver D.J. Thompson said. "The adversity, everything I'd been through, the 0-12 season, and the 9-5 season was just amazing. It was a good learning experience and I was glad I got to get the praise that we got for the turnaround that we had."
After Conference USA members averaged 22,087 fans per home game in 2013, the numbers declined in the following two years (20,422 in 2014 and 19,825 in 2015). There was a slight increase to 19,841 this season.
"Even when it wasn't good, even when we were losing, every game they still sat there in the stands in the rain cheering us on," Southern Miss senior defensive end Dylan Bradley said. "After the games during that 1-11 season, there were always fans telling me, 'Y'all are going to get it, y'all will get it together. I never had a fan come to me and say, 'Y'all are sorry.' They're always encouraging us saying, 'Y'all got this.'
"I could've easily given up and said, 'I'm done. I can't play here because of the fact that the team isn't what we need to be.' I stuck here because of the fans and like I said, it was all a big thank you. They all have a place in my heart because they all taught me what true loyalty was and I'm grateful for them."
Conference USA officials estimate about 30,000 people to attend the New Orleans Bowl between the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (6-6) and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (6-6). If that number holds, it'd be the lowest number in the bowl's history since 2010 -- the last time a team from Louisiana did not play in the New Orleans Bowl.