#76 Southern Miss 2018 Football Preview

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Overall Rank: #76
#6 Conference USA
 Southern Miss Logo
Southern Miss had a fine 2017 season, going 8-5 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA play. Coach Jay Hopson has done a good job attempting to stabilize a program that has been extremely inconsistent recently. There are some big questions heading into this season, but the Golden Eagles have the potential to return to a bowl game and compete for a division title.
2017 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2017 Bowl: Independence Bowl vs. Florida State (L 13-42)
Coach: Jay Hopson (15-11 at Southern Miss, 47-28 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Shannon Dawson
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Billings
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tez Parks, RB, 272 yards
Passing: Kwadra Griggs, QB, 1,879 yards
Receiving: Quez Watkins, WR, 337 yards
Tackles: Racheem Boothe, LB, 79
Sacks: Paxton Schrimsher, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: None
Other Key Returnees: QB Leon Howard, OL Drake Dorbeck, OL Arvin Fletcher, LB Jeremy Sangster, K Parker Shaunfield
Key Losses: RB Ito Smith, WR Korey Robertson, WR Allenzae Staggers, OL Devin Farrior, DB Tarvarius Moore, DB Kelsey Douglas, DB Curtis Mikell, DB Jomez Applewhite, DL Xavier Thigpen
The biggest question of them all is at quarterback. The Golden Eagles split quarterback duties between Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard last year. Both return, but Griggs was hurt during the spring and Howard split time with junior college transfer Jack Abraham. Griggs had the most success in the win column last year, but all three could see action in the fall. Whoever is under center, they will have to work with a largely unproven group at wide receiver. The situation at running back looks murky as well. Ito Smith, the second-leading rusher in school history, is gone after a superb career. There are quality options to replace him though. T’Rod Daniels, George Payne and Tez Parks are all experienced seniors. Add in promising redshirt freshman Steve Anderson and Southern Miss should be able to rely on their stable of running backs to replace the production of Smith.
Coach Hopson is known for his versatile 4-2-5 defense and it has been very effective so far at Southern Miss. However, with only four starters returning, there could be a step back this year. The biggest questions are in the secondary where all five starters need to be replaced. Sophomore Rachaun Mitchell and senior Picasso Nelson, who was a starter before an injury forced him to sit out last year, are the only returning players in the secondary with significant experience. The front six has much more experience. Linebackers Racheem Boothe and Jeremy Sangster will return to their starting roles. Boothe earned some Freshman All-America accolades last year after tallying 79 tackles. LaDarius Harris, Darian Yancey and Paxton Schrimsher are experienced pass rushers who can help cover the inexperience in the secondary by getting to the quarterback.
The Bottom Line:
Southern Miss may not win eight games again this year, but this is a group that has potential. Finding a quarterback and developing consistency on offense will go a long way. If that happens by the time the heart of conference play rolls around, and the secondary can find a playmaker or two, Southern Miss will reach their fourth straight bowl game.
Projected Bowl: New Orleans Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 184.5 (41st in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 240.1 (55, 4)
Total Offense: 424.6 (43, 3)
Scoring Offense: 29.2 (58, 4)
Rushing Defense: 138.5 (37, 4)
Pass Defense: 193.5 (25, 3)
Total Defense: 331.9 (20, 2)
Scoring Defense: 24.5 (45, 4)
Turnover Margin: -0.08 (72, 5)
Sacks: 1.85 (83, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.08 (11, 2)