The Southern Miss football team will be similar to last year in results, but not necessarily in faces.
The coaching staff will be similar (sans the additions of offensive coordinator Erik Losey and receivers coach Scotty Walden), but the players will be vastly different. Gone are Nick Mullens, Dylan Bradley and other mainstays. But, USM will have new faces to lean on with safety Tarvarius Moore, defensive lineman Jacques Turner and the majority of the offensive linemen will be having their first- team repetitions for the first time in their careers.
The biggest question for me will not be under center as Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs bring the same type of gifts, even if they come in different years in their respective careers. To me, the biggest question is – how will the defense gel together with various role players over the years getting their first shot in the spotlight this season?
If Southern Miss puts it all together, I could see this team winning eight games. But, with growing pains and another quarterback in the fold, this team should hover around five or six games — just with less talent than last year’s team.
The Golden Eagles will face a tough schedule that will bring them constant adversity. The road schedule is tough facing Louisiana Tech, Marshall and Tennessee, all of which are in the second half of the season.
The quarterback battle remains undecided and the offensive line also needs to be rebuilt, a line that may not see the production it had last year. The offense will heavily rely on the run this upcoming year. Not much to worry about because of the immense depth at the running back and wide receiver position. The offense should stay productive, just not as productive as last year.
The defense still features several playmakers and showed improvement at the spring game, especially in their ability to force turnovers. The defensive line will again be the high point of the defense. If the linebackers and secondary can continue to show improvement, then the Golden Eagles may be on the verge of having a dynamic, playmaking defense. The team will be talented again, but the strength of schedule and adversity in leadership for the offense will be hard to overcome.
It will be a different team for second-year Head Coach Jay Hopson. Despite all the holes to fill, the Golden Eagles will most likely finish with a 7-5 record and make another bowl game.
Despite the positives of last season, Southern Miss must limit turnovers and early deficits in order to improve its record next season.
Offensively, Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard need to stay confident under center in a system that is still discovering itself. Allenzae Staggers will remain the biggest deep threat, and Jordan Mitchell should be another solid target down field. Ito Smith will get handed the ball a lot, but George Payne and Tez Parks need to step up to add depth to the backfield. If the newly reformed offensive line can do their job, the offense is poised for a big year.
Questions still remain on defense, but guys like Xavier Thigpen and Picasso Nelson, Jr. should step up to lead the “nasty bunch.” More turnovers need to be forced and big plays need to be prevented for the opposing team. If Defensive Coordinator Tony Pecoraro can utilize different looks, opposing offenses will always be on their toes.
With two SEC games on the schedule and a new quarterback to lead to offense, the 2017 season will not be easy. If the Golden Eagles offensive weapons are utilized while limiting turnovers, then they should finish the year as C-USA West division champions with a 9-3 record.
In order to achieve bowl eligibility for the third straight season, Southern Miss must place an emphasis on running the ball in 2017.
The Golden Eagles have the advantage of returning running backs, Tez Parks, George Payne and Ito Smith, who led the team with 1,459 rushing yards in 2016. Quarterbacks Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs, who are currently battling for the starting quarterback position, also bring a level of mobility and athleticism to the offense, with both potentially giving the offense a fourth rushing threat.
The big question for the running game heading into next season is how the offensive line will perform. Head Coach Jay Hopson and his staff are tasked with finding at least three new starters for open positions on the offensive line. If the offensive line struggles as a unit during the season, it will be difficult for Parks, Payne and Smith to find running lanes, and the team will struggle get to six wins.
I believe that the new offensive line can and will mesh into a cohesive unit during the season, allowing the running game to thrive and pushing the Golden Eagles over the six-win mark.
Second-year Head Coach Jay Hopson will look to build from last year’s 7-6 record and a New Orleans bowl victory. Southern Miss will open its season against Kentucky at M.M. Roberts Stadium on September 2. Kentucky will surely look for redemption to show that last year’s second-half falter against the Golden Eagles was a mistake.
If the Golden Eagles offensive line can give senior running back Ito Smith even the slightest hole to run through, he’ll do the rest. If the Golden Eagles can execute a successful run scheme this upcoming season, they will have the potential to play competitive football from the top of the schedule to the bottom.
Expect a slow start on the offensive side of the ball, with no starter named at quarterback yet and a young offensive line. If Hopson can find the formula that he wants on offense early in the season, this team will gel and take a step up the C-USA ladder. Western Kentucky occupies the top of C-USA for now, but with the right pieces placed in the right position, their current spot in C-USA is far from safe.
Prediction: Southern Miss will finish the season with an overall of 9-3, with a conference record of 7-1.
The Southern Miss football team will face a fairly easier schedule compared to last season’s schedule. Taking Troy and LSU off of the schedule are what makes this upcoming year’s schedule easier, but the addition of Tennessee and the return of Kentucky will be far from a walk in the park.
Offensively, the Golden Eagles still need to find their rhythm. From the chemistry between the receivers and quarterbacks to the experience of the offensive line. Southern Miss has a lot to work on before the first game against Kentucky on September 2. A starting quarterback has yet to be announced, but that is the least of the Golden Eagles’ worries as Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs both have displayed the talent to contribute to the offensive scheme.
Defensively, Southern Miss has to fill some big holes with Dylan Bradley and D’Nerius Antoineboth signing with teams in the NFL. From what was seen in the spring game, Defensive Coordinator Tony Pecoraro has done well with filling those spots. Turnovers were the highlight of the spring game and applying pressure to the quarterback were all displayed consistently.
If Southern Miss can get both sides of the ball clicking from game one and carry the scheme throughout the season, I see them going 9-3 with another bowl game victory.