Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Southern Miss completely underachieved in year one under Jay Hopson, and even found a way to lose to Charlotte. What happened last fall should be enough to push this team in 2017 to not slide back again. If they can use that as motivation, the West Division is wide open for the Eagles to grab. Is there enough in the tank to get it done?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Ito Smith may be the most important returning player in CUSA in 2017. He is absolutely a pre-season CUSA player of the year candidate after rushing for 1459 yards last fall. He scored 17 rushing TDs, and avereaged 5.51 yards per carry. George Payne and Tez Parks both will return as the primary backups as well, so the run game should not be a major issue. Smith also added 43 receptions.
Isaiah Jones and Korey Robertson will be back to settle their battle for one of the starting WR jobs, and combined for 57 receptions. Allenzae Staggers is also back, and led the team in receiving last fall with 62 receptions for 1157 yards and seven scores.
Parker Shanfield is back at PK, and was almost automatic last fall, as he hit 12/14 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QB Nick Mullins is gone, and that is a problem. Keon Howard was the primary backup last season, and is back, but his play was erratic, at best, as he completed just 44% of his passing attempts in limited duty. That is not going to be good enough. Three other QBs on the roster are freshmen, and nobody on the roster, other than Howard, have any experience at all, so the Eagles are hitting the reboot button here.
The offensive line is being rebuilt as well, and that is another major problem for the Eagles. Will Freeman and Jacob Fleming were fighting it out to start in the bowl at LT, and now both are gone. The same could be said for Brandon Farmer and Oliver Bates at LG. Cameron Tom is also gone at C, but Tyler Stutzman is back, and should take over. Devin Farrier was in a battle to start at RG, but the job seems to be all his as we head into fall camp. Ty Pollard, a RS sophomore, should be starting again at RT. All in all, the entire left side of the line is somewhat in flux, and so battles need to ensue in camp to figure it out.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense slid by almost four points per game last fall, to give up over 29 points per game. Southern Miss will be back running the 3-3-5 again, and the unit will be led up front by DE Xavier Thigpen, who finished with 12.5 TFLs last season. LaDarius Harris and Draper Riley battled for the DT job last fall, and combined for 8.5 TFLs. They will likely both get plenty of time on the field this fall. Rod Crayton is a little bit undersized for NT, but he should be stepping into the starting role there this fall. Derrick Dixon returns as the backup at DE as well.
Three starters return in the nickle defense secondary. Picasso Nelson, Jr. is back at NB, Cornell Armstrong is back at CB, and Curtis Mickell is back at the other CB position. Nelson finished with 48 tackles, Armstrong finished with eight PBUs, and Curtis Mikell finished with four PBUs. Tarvarius Moore is also back at FS this fall, and should step up to the starting role.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Southern Miss has some issues at LB this fall, as they lose both CJ Perry and Elijah Parker. Jeremy Sangster has a shot to replace Perry, while Sherrod Ruff has a shot to replace Parker. Ruff finished with 37 tackles last fall, but Sangster finished with just seven, and is an unknown quantity, and may very well lose the job in fall camp.
Tyler Sarrazin is also gone at Punter, and he was a valuable piece to the puzzle last fall. He averaged 44.74 yards per punt last season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Kentucky, 9/9 Southern, 9/16 at UL-Monroe, 9/30 North Texas, 10/7 at UTSA, 10/14 UTEP. 10/21 at Louisiana Tech, 10/28 UAB, 11/4 at Tennessee, 11/11 at Rice, 11/18 Charlotte, 11/25 at Marshall
Southern Miss managed to win seven games last season, but nothing about it was easy. There is an opportunity this season for Jay Hopson's team, as the West is totally winnable in CUSA. If the Eagles can find a QB, they may have the advantage, but that is going to be a tough go, as there is so little measurable experience there to go on, and that they do have is not great. What they do have is one of the best backs in the conference, and they need to ride him until they get the QB situation straight. The schedule sets up for a fast start, but Southern Miss fell in games that nobody saw coming last season, and that cannot happen again. It's a flip of the coin this fall for this team.