Todd Monken engineered an incredible turnaround at USM from 2013-15 after the Golden Eagles went 0-12 in 2012, and Jay Hopson has done a great job keeping things afloat, securing a winning record in each of his first three years on the job in Hattiesburg.
It was impressive that the streak continued last year as the Golden Eagles fielded a terrible offense, but the defense was one of the best in the G5 and helped steady the ship.
Now, Southern Miss brings back one of the most experienced rosters in the nation and should compete for a Conference USA Title.
The new offensive coordinator for Southern Miss is Buster Faulkner (former OC at Middle Tennesse and Murray State, most recently an offensive assistant at Arkansas State), certainly an improvement over Hopson’s original leading candidate, Art Briles, who the AD instantly shut down when Hopson interviewed Briles without permission.
The quarterback is Jack Abraham, who boasted an absurd 73% completion rate but was not quite as efficient as that number would indicate, averaging 7.7 YPA, and throwing at just a three-to-two touchdown to interception ration.
The top five receivers from last year are back in a group led by senior Quez Watkins (889 yards, 12.3 YPC, nine touchdowns). I should say, were expected to be back. Watkins’ eligibility is up in the air depending on how his grades look in summer courses at a JUCO school, he was on the edge of being ruled academically eligible at last update. Should he not return, #2 Tim Jones is a pretty exciting option as well. Jones averaged 12.1 YPC on 42 catches last year.
The rushing attack wasn’t great in 2018, largely due to an inconsistent line. Leading rusher Trivenskey Mosley showed flashes (5.0 YPA) but overall was unproductive (494 total yards, one touchdown). #2 Steven Anderson was a short-yardage/goal-line back that racked up six touchdowns but just over 300 total yards.
The offensive line brings back a jumbled mess of talent, including center Trace Clopton, who shined as a freshman. A couple of JUCO transfers will fill the holes at tackle between Coker Wright and Khalique Washington.
Despite the OC change, this offense should improve as ten starters return from last year’s team and they add some big JUCOs on the OL.
The defense was awesome last year, borderline top-five in the G5, and it kept the offense afloat, never allowing over 30 points and allowing over 24 just twice with an average of 19.8 PPG and just 4.6 YPP.
The Golden Eagles get back a key piece at each level, with DE Jacques Turner (five sacks, five TFL), SLB Racheem Boothe (four sacks, six TFL), and FS Ky’El Hemby (leading returning tackler, six interceptions) leading each unit. Corners Rachuan Mitchell and Ty Williams also return after combining for seven TFL, 11 PBUs, and six picks last year.
The two big holes are at nose tackle and middle linebacker, where JUCO Swayze Bozeman is the projected starter. Penn State grad transfer Torrence Brown and JUCO Eriq Kitchen join as pass-rushers to fill out a line that is the most talented unit on the team.
Nickelback DQ Thomas and corner Ernest Gunn are two names that were quite productive despite limited snaps, so I’d watch to see if either of them step up into bigger roles.
The defense was so great last year the regression to the mean may be imminent, but this is still one of Conference USA’s best Ds
Conference USA seems to be the tightest conference race in the country, and the Eagles certainly are in the crowded mix there.
The non-conference schedule is really tough (Alabama, Mississippi State, Troy), but this team is good enough for another winning year, with a chance for a conference title if the offense can improve.
|at Mississippi State
|at Louisiana Tech
|at Florida Atlantic
Average Projected Record: 6.7 wins, 5.3 losses (5.2 wins, 2.8 losses)