#54 Southern Miss Football 2016 Preview

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Overall Rank: #54
#1 Conference USA
Southern Miss boasted one of the nation’s most prolific offenses in 2015 and that should continue under new coach Jay Hopson. The surprise success of winning the Conference USA West title and playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl led to losing their coach, but Southern Miss returns more than enough talent to repeat that success. Coach Hopson spent the last four seasons as the head man at Alcorn State and had two previous stints as an assistant at Southern Miss.
2015 Record: 9-5, 7-1
2015 Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Washington (L 31-44)
Coach: Jay Hopson (0-0 at Southern Miss, 32-17 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: John Wozniak
Defensive Coordinator: David Duggan
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ito Smith, RB, 1,128 yards
Passing: Nick Mullens, QB, 4,476 yards
Receiving: DJ Thompson, WR, 779 yards
Tackles: D’Nerius Antoine, S, 103
Sacks: Dylan Bradley, DL, 6.5
Interceptions: D’Nerius Antoine, S, 2; Cornell Armstrong, CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: OL Cameron Tom, S Picasso Nelson, LB Elijah Parker, DE Darian Yancey, DE Xavier Thigpen
Key Losses: RB Jalen Richard, WR Michael Thomas, WR Casey Martin, OL Rashod Hill, LB Brian Anderson, DB Kalan Reed
Quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns last season and will look to get some school records on his resume during his senior season. Mullens is an efficient and effective quarterback and will be able to adapt to any new wrinkles the new staff wants to add to the offense. Casey Martin and Michael Thomas, Mullens’ top two targets last year, are gone, but D.J. Thompson is back after catching 55 passes for 779 yards and six touchdowns. With Korey Robertson ready to take a big step forward and junior college transfer Isaiah Jones joining the mix, replacing Martin and Thomas will not be as difficult as it sounds. Despite all of the success through the air in 2015, the Golden Eagles had two 1,000 yard backs. Jalen Richard is gone, but Ito Smith returns after rushing for 1,128 yards and ten touchdowns. He will be the featured back this year, but Southern Miss will want to find another back to pick up more carries.
By the numbers, the defense was surprisingly good last year. When an offense puts up so many points, you’d expect the defense to be relatively bad. However, Southern Miss ranked second in the conference in rush defense and scoring defense and third in pass defense and total defense. In their five losses though, Southern Miss allowed an average of 38 points per game. Those were against the tougher teams on the schedule, but that is still quite a few points and even the Southern Miss offense could not do enough. The concern on defense is right up the gut where Southern Miss lost both tackles and their middle linebacker. Dylan Bradley will lead the pass rush and Darian Yancey had a very promising freshman campaign. Linebacker Elijah Parker will move into the middle after totaling 47 tackles last season and the expectations are high for sophomore Jeremy Sangster. The secondary is led by safety D’Nerius Antoine, who led the team with 103 tackles last season. He will also spend some time at linebacker this year. With cornerbacks Trae Collins and Cornell Armstrong, the Golden Eagles should again be a pretty tough team to throw against.
The Bottom Line:
The very strong run defense could take a step back and the offense as a whole could need some time to work out some kinks, but this is the best team in Conference USA. And the schedule is extremely friendly too. There are road games against Kentucky and LSU, but Southern Miss gets Marshall and Louisiana Tech at home. Every other game is very winnable. If the Golden Eagles can get off to a good start and beat Kentucky, it will be pretty easy to forget that Coach Jeff Monken left the program just when they were ready for their best season ever. That could still happen, but with a coaching change, it could be more difficult for this team to take that next step.
Projected Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 179.8 (54th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 329.7 (12, 2)
Total Offense: 509.5 (12, 2)
Scoring Offense: 39.9 (13, 2)
Rushing Defense: 151.9 (46, 2)
Pass Defense: 227.6 (70, 3)
Total Defense: 379.5 (50, 3)
Scoring Defense: 25.6 (49, 2)
Turnover Margin: -0.07 (74, 5)
Sacks: 2.29 (52, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.86 (54, 6)


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