Golden Eagles in the Hopson era
Printz reporters predict USM football season
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will begin the 2016 football season Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky against the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC. After a successful 9-5 season last year, new head coach Jay Hopson looks to continue Todd Monken’s success in 2016 with a favorable schedule.
Southern Miss features an explosive offense led by 2015 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year senior quarterback Nick Mullens. Kentucky has an inexperienced defense, so expect a shootout
in Lexington. I believe it will be a close game, but Kentucky will pull away in the end. If Southern Miss was playing them later in the year, I would expect a different outcome. You cannot expect to bring in a new coaching staff without hitting a few speedbumps, but I hope I am wrong. The good news for the Golden Eagles: the two toughest conference games, Marshall and Louisiana Tech, are both being played at home during the second half of the season, leaving plenty of time for Hopson to work out any kinks.
Southern Miss should win nine or ten games in 2016 if they stay healthy, with Kentucky, LSU, Marshall and Louisiana Tech being the toughest games on the schedule. I expect Southern Miss to drop both games to SEC opponents and possibly lose to Marshall in Week 8. If that is the case, the Golden Eagles should not worry because there is a good chance of getting another shot at Marshall in the Conference USA Championship game, should they beat out Louisiana Tech for first place in the West.
The players that I will keep my eyes on are obviously Mullens, who was named to the Davey O’Brien Award watch list. Junior halfback Ito Smith, who was one of two Golden Eagles to rush for 1,000 yards last season, should also have another exciting year as well. On defense, expect senior defensive end Dylan Bradley and senior safety D’Nerius Antoine to do big things for the Nasty Bunch in 2016.
Sept. 3, the Golden Eagles will unveil their highly-anticipated squad under new head coach Jay Hopson and his nearly entire new coaching staff.
The Golden Eagles are coming off of a 9-5 season with a 7-1 record in conference play.
The Golden Eagles’ past successes stemmed from numerous playmakers such as D’Nerius Antoine, Nick Mullens, Mike Thomas and Dylan Bradley, just to name a few.
While four out of five of these players will return to the gridiron this year, wide receiver Mike Thomas’ 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns last season will be one factor coach Hopson will have to look to fill. While there is great potential in the receiving core this year with D.J. Thompson, Isaiah Jones and Allenzae Staggers, nothing is guaranteed at the end of the day.
This year, the Golden Eagle schedule is fairly less difficult than the one prior. With the two hardest teams consisting of LSU and Kentucky, other teams like Louisiana Tech and Marshall are not teams to look over.
My biggest concern this year with this squad is who will be the player to step up to make the big play when needed? Who will make the crucial impact plays?
Besides my sole concern, I feel the Golden Eagles can improve this year and win the conference title combined with a bowl game appearance donning a 10-2 record.
The Golden Eagles are not the team of last year …. or are they really?
Besides the almost entirely new coaching staff, there is not much different about this team fans will not recognize from last year. Nick Mullens, Ito Smith, D’Nerius Antoine, Dylan Bradley and a whole host of returning players will look to improve on the renaissance 9-5 record the team recorded last year.
My biggest question marks of the year have nothing to do with the offense, despite losing star receivers Mike Thomas (1,391 yards, 14 TD’s) and Casey Martin (80 receptions, 925 yards). Those losses will be mitigated by the influx of junior receivers in Isaiah Jones and Allenzae Staggers. Not to mention new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has had success wherever he has taken a job.
My biggest concern will be the front seven on defense. Elijah Parker, Dylan Bradley and Xavier Thigpen will lead the group — but who will step up next to those mentioned?
Whether it is Sherrod Ruff at linebacker, Jerry McCorvery at defensive tackle or Darian Yancey at the wolf position, the opponent’s ground game may be of emphasis week in and week out.
The Golden Eagles could run the table and go undefeated. But, that would be wishful thinking as a Golden Eagle fan. Rather, this team should set the bar at 10 wins with their losses coming against LSU and Marshall in back-to-back games. Then again, predictions are just predictions.
The Golden Eagles look to build off of last season especially in conference play.
The traditional conference contenders, Louisiana Tech and Marshall, have lost many of their key starters from last season. The Golden Eagles look to take advantage of the relatively easy conference slate, as they were picked to win it by several news outlets.
However, the biggest indication for how the season will go is the first game of the season against Kentucky in Lexington. Despite the fact that Kentucky has struggled in its powerhouse conference, no SEC team can be overlooked. A win in Week 1 will set the tone for the season.
The toughest game on the schedule this season is the road game at LSU. Tiger Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the entire country. The upside to such a tall order is that LSU has been known to overlook teams like Southern Miss in the past during the Les Miles’ coaching era. The Golden Eagles just need to slow down Heisman-favorite junior running back Leonard Fournette and rattle their returning quarterback junior Brandon Harris. If all of this somehow happens, then an undefeated season is in sight.
This season will have to count on Nick Mullens having another great year, although it is just as important for the defense to improve from last season.
In a best case scenario, the Golden Eagles could go 12-0. In the worst case scenario, they should easily go 10-2, get a fairly big bowl game and land a place in the collegiate Top 25.