In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 94 Southern Miss
Southern Miss has eradicated the stench of the miserable three-year stretch from 2012-14 that produced four total wins and are aiming for a fourth straight season with at least seven wins.
They lost a lot of NFL talent on both sides of the ball and must rebuild the interior defensive line and secondary, all while replacing a defensive coordinator who jumped ship in March.
2017 Record: 8-5 (6-2, Conference USA)
After four total wins from 2012-14, Southern Miss has returned to a consistent winner and contender in the Conference USA, racking up 24 victories over the last four wins. Balance and consistency on both sides of the ball produced eight wins, including a Power Five win for the second straight season (both vs. Kentucky).
Head Coach: Jay Hopson (3rd Year, 15-11)
Jay Hopson's 15 wins are tied for the most by a Southern Miss coach n his first two seasons since Curley Hallman also had 15 in 1988-89.
Hopson is a native of Vicksburg, Miss., who played at Ole Miss and made two stops at Southern Miss (2001-03, 2005-07) before returning as a first-time FBS head coach in 2016. His staff took some hits this offseason, including defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro bailing for Florida Atlantic days before spring practice opened.
RB Ito Smith, WR Korey Robertson, WR Allenzae Staggers, OL Devin Farrior, DE Xavier Thigpen, DE Draper Riley, DT Rod Crayton, CB Curtis Mikell, CB Cornell Armstrong, S Tarvarius Moore
Every era except quarterback and linebacker got hit hard.
Ito Smith, Cornell Armstrong and Tarvarius Moore were drafted. Early entrant Korey Robertson, whom they would've loved another season from — was not chosen. Their third-leading pass-catcher (behind Robertson and Smith), Allenzae Staggers is also gone after 107 receptions the last two years.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Kwadra Griggs, QB Keon Howard, RB Tez Parks, RB T'Rod Daniels, WR Quez Watkins, WR Isaiah Jones, OT Drake Dorbeck, G Arvin Fletcher, G Ty Pollard, K Parker Shaunfield
The long list is misleading. While Southern Miss returns a lot of experience, many of them are still competing for playing time.
Kwadra Griggs had an interception-to-touchdown ratio of 8:1 last year but the now-senior is not the unquestioned starter entering 2018. He is one of five quarterbacks competing for the job and was one of nine — NINE! — quarterbacks on the roster at the start of spring ball
One quarterback, Steven Anderson, moved to running back, still, nine quarterbacks. Griggs (below) missed all of the spring with a leg injury and may not return until July. Juniors Keon Howard and Jack Abraham (JUCO transfer) appear to have the best chance of challenging the incumbent.
“The guy that wins the job is the guy that puts the ball in play the most,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said in April. “The only place we really struggled was putting the ball in play in the passing game. We completed a little over 50 percent (56.0) of our passes. We need to be in the 65-70 percent range. All that is just processing, accuracy and getting the right people the ball. The person that can do that the best is the one that starts. There's no doubt about that. That's the No. 1 focus in that room.”
The winner won't have Ito Smith but does get Tez Parks, a longtime backup who's big (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and can catch the ball, and T'Rod Daniels, a smaller (5-foot-9 ,175 pounds) former JUCO transfer who averaged nearly eight yards per carry. Receivers Quez Watkins and Isaiah Jones showed both loads of potential and loads of issues last year.
The offensive line will be darn good, as will the kicking game, where Parker Shaunfield is back after hitting 85 percent of field-goal attempts in 2017.
Returning Defensive Players
DE LaDarius Harris, DE Jacques Turner, LB Paxton Schrimsher, LB Racheem Boothe, LB Jeremy Sangster, LB Sherrod Ruff, CB Picasso Nelson Jr.
Tony Pecoraro's departure for FAU in early March was a kick to the groin. Instead of hiring a new coach, Hopson promoted safeties coach Tim Billings to coordinator. Both the timing and the loss itself sucks after Pecoraro built one of the best units in the conference and one of the more balanced in the entire country.
The interior line is up for grabs but LaDarius Harris and Jacques Turner will anchor the outside and Paxton Schrimsher (above), one of my favorite players in college football leads a loaded and deep linebacker group. Schrimsher is a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who does everything. Don't let the 49 tackles fool you; he's all the over the field.
The secondary is the overwhelming wild card. Nickel back Picasso Nelson Jr. is back from injury but replacing Moore, Armstrong and Curtis Mikell will take a year or two, especially after the coaching change.
QB Jack Abraham, DT Andrew Cole, DT Isaiah Johnson
Jack Abraham is a three-star JUCO transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he completed 64 percent of his passes, just a shade below Shannon Dawson's aforementioned goal.
“You still see the wheels turning as far as communication and learning our system,” Dawson said of the 6-foot, 204-pounder from Oxford, Miss. “That's true with any quarterback. It's like learning a new language. It has to be second nature before you can go out and play instinctively. I can see it slowing down for him for a minute, but it still isn't 100 percent smooth.”
Two more JUCO transfers, Andrew Cole and Isaiah Johnson, will see immediate time on the defensive line.
Southern Miss played Auburn 21 times between 1946-93, including all but four years from 1977-93, but they've only met once since then (2008). The series will be renewed in Week 5 when the Golden Eagles visit Auburn.
Southern Miss opens the season with back-to-back home games but doesn't have back-to-back home games again, rotating off home and road dates each week beginning Oct. 13.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Jackson State|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. UL-Monroe|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Appalachian State|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Rice|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Auburn|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at North Texas|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. UTSA|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Charlotte|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Marshall|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at UAB|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||vs. Louisiana Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at UTEP|