Expectations for Southern Miss’ 2015 season are higher than ever during head coach Todd Monken’s tenure as he enters his third season.
While hopes are tempered, there is the belief that this year’s team will be different and make its first bowl game in three seasons, which should be the expectation every year.
Monken has now been at the helm for three years, which has given him adequate time to surround himself with not only the right players, but also the right staff. He has had all his coaches in place now for three years and has had three years to recruit his guys to fit his system, not previous coaches’ players.
These are now his guys, not Ellis Johnson’s and not Larry Fedora’s. This is his team. His players have been in his system, have heard the same voices, and the continuation and stability have been crucial.
The rebuilding is over now and it’s time for Monken to show his worth. With incoming players like Ricky Parks, Anthony Swain, Devonta Foster and D’Nerius Antoine on
the defensive side and Julian Allen, Tyler Matthews, Justice Hayes and Taylor Marini on the offensive side, talent is no longer an issue.
The Golden Eagles now not only have the talent to compete with anyone in the conference, but also have the experience, which will pay dividends.
Take most of last year as an example. In several games last season, the Golden Eagles were in a lot of close games with the chance to win, but let them slip away, most notably against Middle Tennessee State (37-31) and UTSA (12-10).
It was not due to poor coaching; it was because of the lack of depth and turnovers. Both of those weaknesses were rectified in the offseason.
Another important factor is the maturation of the players that not only got playing time last year, but the year before in Monken’s first year. A lot of players who were young and inexperienced are now seasoned veterans, ready to play in pressure- packed situations.
Players are also not only smarter and more mature, but bigger and stronger with another year in the weight
room under the guidance of newly hired strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. Woodfin has been lauded by fellow coaching staff members and players alike.
However, after all these factors, there is still one glaring mark that will make year three the year USM gets back on track: its schedule.
For several years, the Golden Eagles have had one of the toughest schedules in Conference USA. Some might argue that things do not look easy with two of the first four opponents being Mississippi State and Nebraska.
But looking past those games, there are several winnable games for USM, such as games against North Texas, UTSA, Charlotte, UTEP and Old Dominion. All of these teams are near the middle or lower in the conference with two more winnable games mixed in with Austin Peay and Texas State, two lackluster programs.
That leaves eight games for the Golden Eagles to possibly win, with a few hiccups along the way. Even if they drop two of those games, that still leaves them with six wins, good enough for a bowl berth.
Monken has proven he knows how to win. He came from Oklahoma State, where he was under head coach Mike Gundy when they were national title contenders in 2011.
Also, year three is usually the year head coaches turn their programs around and at least get to a 6-6 record. For example, in Jim Harbaugh’s first two years at Stanford, his best record was 5-7. However, in his third year, Harbaugh went 8-5.
Some might think that it is a fluke, but let us look at legendary Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz only managed four wins in his first two seasons. Sound familiar? In Ferentz’s third season, the
Hawkeyes went 7-5. However, both Ferentz and
Harbaugh were in the Big 10 and Pac 10 respectively, so let us look at an SEC caliber coach who turned
things around. Missouri head coach
Gary Pinkle started off very sluggishly going 9-16 his first two years, but in his third year, he guided the Tigers to an 8-5 record and a bowl game.
So history seems to be in Monken’s favor.
Todd Monken’s third year at the helm will be a wild one with plenty of ups and downs, but regardless of the win-loss column in 2015, know that Todd Monken is turning the program around.