BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Ben Mauk and No. 20 Cincinnati spoiled Jeff Bower's farewell.
Mauk passed for 334 yards and four touchdowns and DeAngelo Smith intercepted three passes Saturday, leading the Bearcats to a 31-21 win over Southern Miss and its outgoing coach in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
The victory gave Cincinnati (10-3) its second 10-win season and first since 1951, while virtually assuring a spot in the final rankings for the first time.
Mauk completed 30 of 52 passes and overcame three interceptions to become only the third Bearcats player to have a 3,000-yard passing season. It was a nice finish for the former Wake Forest starter and for first-year Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, but a difficult one for Southern Miss (7-6) and Bower.
This was the final game for Bower after 17 seasons at his alma mater, a stay that ranks behind only that of Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer among current coaches. Bower was forced to resign after a disappointing regular season, leading to the hiring of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora.
Bower walked off the field, his arm draped around his daughter, Stephanie.
His team couldn't convert several chances to at least make the ending interesting. Mostly, though, they couldn't stop Kelly's spread offense.
Mauk, who also rushed for 41 yards, threw three touchdown passes during an eight-minute span extending into the second half, when Bower's gamble backfired. He called a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from his own 29, but punter Britt Barefoot was stopped short.
Mauk hit Earnest Jackson for a 29-yard TD strike on the next play for a 21-7 lead. Jeremy Young answered with a 1-yard scoring run for Southern Miss before Mauk struck again with a 10-yarder to Antwuan Giddens and set up a 22-yard field goal by Jake Rogers in the final seconds of the third quarter to put the Bearcats up 31-14.
Young cut into the lead again with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Chris Johnson. But Southern Miss couldn't recover an onside kick or convert a fourth-and-1 play on its next possession.
Brandon Sumrall's interception in the end zone gave the Golden Eagles another chance with 5:59 to play. Smith's final pick ended their slim hopes in the final minutes.
Damion Fletcher provided most of the offense for Southern Miss. He ran 29 times for 155 yards against a defense that came in allowing just 106 yards on the ground. He also caught seven passes for 50 yards.
Young was 18-for-32 for 122 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 55 yards. He was sacked four times and threw the three interceptions.
Goodman caught seven passes for 95 yards and a pair of scores for Cincinnati. Connor Barwin (86 yards) and Antwuan Giddens (64) also had seven catches apiece.
The Bearcats had overcome three turnovers to take a 14-7 halftime lead thanks to a pair of Mauk-to-Dominick Goodman touchdown connections. Another one was reversed by instant replay officials because the ball hit the ground.