2011 Record: (12-2, 6-2 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Ellis Johnson (first year head coach, former South Carolina DC)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Sheraton Bowl: beat Nevada 24-17
Big Name Opponents: 9/1 at Nebraska, 9/29 vs Louisville, 10/6 vs Boise State
Revenge: 10/20 vs Marshall, 11/3 vs UAB
Stat to Cheer: 8th in the Nation in Red Zone scoring % as opponents scored on 72% of possessions in the red zone
Stat to Fear: turned the ball over 30 times in 2011 (13 more than in 2010)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters (Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB/DL Jamie Collins (98 tackles, 19.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 TD), DB Jacorius Cotton (98 tackles, 2 INT), DB Deron Wilson (75 tackles, 4 INT, 2 TD)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Tracy Lampley (47 rec, 463 yds rushing)
Inside Scoop with Drew White of Golden Eagle Pride:
CFBZ: Larry Fedora has moved on to UNC and is replaced by former South Carolina DC Ellis Johnson. What are you initial thoughts on Johnson?
Drew: Coach Fedora did his job at Southern Miss. He was brought in to bring an energetic, up-tempo pace that would stir up some excitement again in the football program. He also won a conference championship and had some strong recruiting classes. He certainly did not leave the cupboard bear for Coach Johnson.
Coach Johnson certainly brings stability to the program. He has a ton of experience, has connections all over the southeast, has hired a staff that has head coaching experience, and has brought in an old school type of disciplined approach that was needed.
Under Coach Johnson, expect to see the Eagles as a more disciplined team who works hard on the fundamentals of the game. Obviously, being a defensive minded head coach, expect to see solid and consistent defensive play and more of a run first ball controlled offense, though the spread will still remain in place. Also, the recruiting philosophies are different, but Johnson’s staff did a fantastic job of closing out on the 2012 class.
Though it is a different approach, Johnson knows first hand the winning tradition and expectations of the program at Southern Miss, and I fully expect him to continue those winning ways.
CFBZ: Who will replace QB Austin Davis?
Drew: The most interesting battle of the spring and heading into the fall is the battle at the Quarterback position. For the first time in four years, the Eagles will see someone not named Austin Davis at QB. There are three, possibly four, candidates for the starting nod.
Junior Chris Campbell sat under Austin Davis for several years and learned the offense well. Campbell is a very smart quarterback who makes good decisions. He knows where the ball is supposed to be and limits mistakes. He can tuck it and run if necessary, but is more of a drop back passer. The only question mark with Campbell is his arm strength, but he probably gives the Eagles the best chance to win immediately.
The quarterback with tremendous upside is redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd. A rare recruit to Southern Miss from northern California, Lloyd is a great athlete with a very strong arm. He struggled a bit picking up the new offense, and still is very raw, but he has a ton of talent and a very strong arm. He also poses a threat in the running game too.
Another guy who is a big question mark is Arsenio Favor. Coaches and fans were unable to see how he would be able to pick up the offense because he had an injury early in the spring. Favor has the tools, a strong arm and probably the best runner of the three, but his limited experience and lack of reps really hurts him in the race for the starting job.
The wild card is incoming true freshman Anthony Alford. With the MLB draft coming up, and Alford being an incredible baseball player, he might not even make it to campus. If he does, and he has said he wants to play college football, the 5 star QB could compete right away for playing time. Because of his limited experience, I wouldn’t expect him to start right away, but he is too talented to keep off the field. Expect the Eagles to find some way to use the local star.
CFBZ: Southern Miss also loses their top two rushers. Who is waiting in the wings to tote the rock for the Golden Eagles?
Drew: Running back is one position where the Eagles are simply loaded. They return a wide array of talented and multi dimensional backs who can all bring something different to the table.
Senior Desmond Johnson has the most experience, and probably earns the starting job. A tough, slashing runner, Johnson also has the breakaway speed if needed to take it all the way. He is also a threat out of the backfield.
Junior Kendrick Hardy was slowed by an injury that kept him out last season, but he is a major load coming through the middle. He is a power back who can move the pile and earn the tough yards.
Junior Jeremy Hester is one who came in last season and made a significant impact when others were injured around him. Hester is only 5’8, but is very fast and capable of taking it to the house, while also being a tough inside the tackles runner. He has all the tools to be a starting back as well.
These three will earn the bulk of the carries, but Mr. Everything senior Tracey Lampley also will be factor as the Eagles look to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Also, Reggie Hunt got some looks and impressed in spring practice as well.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Drew: Southern Miss has a very tough non-conference schedule this year. They start the season in Lincoln, Nebraska, but they do get Louisville and Boise St. at home this year. Also, tough conference games against UCF and SMU will be on the road.
With the talent the Eagles have coming back, I think 8-9 wins is a fair expectation. If they can get consistent quarterback play, this is a team capable of getting double digit wins even with a much tougher schedule this year.
The bar is always set high at Southern Miss. Every year the Eagles are expected to win the conference, and this year is no exception. When you have had 18 consecutive winning seasons, it becomes a part of the culture. Transition year or not, Southern Miss will always expect to win the conference, and that is very much the case this season.
Southern Miss definitely got the short end of the stick in the non-conference scheduling pool as they should be underdogs to all three of their major opponents that Drew mentioned. They do miss out on Houston and Tulsa out of the C-USA West so that’s a bit of good luck as those were the best two teams in the West last year.
Last year, Southern Miss somehow find a way to lose games to UAB and Marshall and then destroy Houston in the C-USA Championship Game so the Golden Eagles can be a bit predictable. It wouldn’t shock me to see Southern Miss run the table in the C-USA but I also think they will go 1-3 in their out-of-conference schedule. The early season games against East Carolina and UCF are the key for Southern Miss. Win those games and they will be on their way to a really good year.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
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