It is no secret that a question mark hangs over next season for Southern Miss football. Coach Jay Hopson showed promise in his first season, but has many things he must improve on.
Although this past year had some success, it could still be considered a letdown. The majority of the 2015 team returned and seemed to be primed to pick up where they left off. Hopson’s program was primed for a winning season, but took the team to a limping finish of 6 – 6.
The Golden Eagles will not only have to replace one of the best quarterbacks in school history, but many key starters on both sides of the ball.
The first thing to watch in the upcoming offseason will be the quarterback battle between Parker Adamson and Keon Howard, who was forced to burn his redshirt this past season. Despite being on the team for several seasons, Adamson has seen very little play time. Adamson could be a solid quarterback but he remains an overall mystery. Howard, on the other hand, shows much potential and brings a different dynamic to the team through his legs. If Howard can protect the ball, he should get the job.
The offense itself may need to change its dynamic and become more of a running team. The return of running backs George Payne, and Ito Smith may make the run-game the backbone of the play calling. If Howard does earn the starting the job, the team will surely be a run first team. The majority of the offensive line will return with many having experience from this past season.
The receiving corps will lose leader D.J. Thompson, but the emergence of Chase Whitehead, Korey Robertson and Allenzae Staggers will keep them solid. The receiving corps can also turn to Julian Allen and Isaiah Thomas, who are talented playmakers adding to the arsenal of returning weapons on offense.
Defense is a different story since many key playmakers will be gone.
Senior defensive lineman Dylan Bradley will be the biggest loss. Bradley’s presence will be missed as he was second on the team with 59 tackles, 7 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Safety D’Nerius Antoine will be another major loss as he led the team in tackles with 82.
However, ball-hawking junior Picasso Nelson Jr. and junior bulldozer Xavier Thigpen will return and have to become the leaders of the secondary and defensive line.
The team next season will have many returning starters but will lose major impact players in key positions on both sides of the ball. Whether Hopson has players that are ready to fill those positions is unknown. A strong recruiting class may be needed to help the team find more success.
The Golden Eagles may have a rough start next season since they will have to play Tennessee early. Once they learn how to play in sync with each other, they can walk away with another winning season and make another bowl game.