No. 92 South Alabama
South Alabama returns a veteran coach, quarterback and running back. They have impact players splattered around the defense and freshmen and transfers ready to make an impact. Yet two questions dominate preseason predictions: Can they rebuild a depleted receiving corps and field an effective offensive line?
2016 Record: 6-7 (2-6, Sun Belt)
South Alabama had an odd 2016 season. They knocked off Mississippi State on the road to open the season before losing to Georgia Southern and UL Lafayette and narrowly escaping Nicholls in overtime. They then beat previously undefeated San Diego State.
Though the injury-riddled Jaguars did reach a bowl game for the second time in three years, they won just two league games and lost four one-score games.
Head Coach: Joey Jones (7th year, 48-42)
Joey Jones led South Alabama's FBS transition, delivered the first bowl games in school history and has brought stability to the program. Now it's time to compete for a Sun Belt title, something they haven't come close to doing in their five years in the conference.
Jones, a former Alabama receiver, enters his ninth season looking to get over te six-win hump — six wins in three of the last four years.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Dallas Davis, RB Xavier Johnson, TE Masseiah Francis, OT Noah Fisher, C Dominic Esposito
Dual-threat quarterback Dallas Davis led the Sun Belt in total yardage per game (268.3) in his first season as starter, though he failed to complete more than 58 percent of his passes in his final three games, including a 10-for-24 performance in the Arizona Bowl. A bump in passing efficiency would make him one of the more dangerous quarterbacks in the FBS for the next two years.
Davis gets back 800-yard rusher Xavier Johnson, but the offense is mostly laced with question marks.
They return zero wide receivers who had 10 receptions last year and lost elite tight end Gerald Everett to the NFL, leaving junior Masseiah Francis as his replacement. An offensive line that struggled, especially in the run game, returns upperclassmen in Fisher and Esposito but most of the unit has been slowed by injuries during the offseason and will be unsettled well into fall camp.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Tyree Turner, DE Tre Alford, DE Finessé Middleton, DE Jimmie Gipson, LB Darrell Songy, LB Bull Barge, CB Jalen Thompson, S Neiko Robinson, S Jeremy Reaves
Leading tackler Darrell Songy returns, as does running mate Bull Barge, but the most important front-seven returnees are arguably two defensive linemen who missed last year with injury, Tyree Turner and Jimmie Gipson. The pair give the Jaguars their best up-front depth they've had in years. Finessé Middleton played well in his first season after transferring from Louisville, registering 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
South Alabama ranked ninth nationally in passing defense (174.6 yards per game) and they'll need safeties Neiko Robinson and Jeremy Reaves and corner Jalen Thompson to lead the charge in ensuring no drop-off after losing two key defensive backs.
Reaves led the team in pass breakups (seven) in 2016 and has been an all-conference selection at both nickel (2015) and corner (2016). Corner Jalen Thompson led the team in interceptions (four) and ranked second in breakups (six).
Notable Player Losses
WR Josh Magee, WR Kevin Kutchera, WR Tyrone Williams, TE Gerald Everett, DE Randy Allen, CB Devon Earl, S Roman Buchanon
The Jaguars' passing attack was gutted by losses. Magee, Kutchera, Williams and Everett combined for 2,404 yards and 11 touchdowns. It leaves Dallas Davis with a pile of inexperienced targets.
Their most disruptive defensive lineman is also gone. Randy Allen exploded in 2016, recording 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. He twice registered at least four sacks and two tackles for loss in a game, including four and three, respectively, in the season finale win over New Mexico State.
Earl and Buchanon combined for 160 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
Notable Player Additions
RB Tywun Walters, G Tyler Grimsley, DE Rocel McWilliams, LB Kendric Haynes
Xavier Johnson will spearhead the running attack but with an unsettled offensive line and zero returning receivers, Dallas Davis will also rely on JUCO transfer Tywun Walters. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder, who redshirted at Louisiana Tech in 2014, ran for 1,000 yards and 12 scores at Northwest Mississippi Community College last year.
Two FBS transfers, guard Tyler Grimsley (Miami, FL) and Rocel Williams (Missouri) are expected to contribute immediately, and three-star outside linebacker recruit Kendric Haynes could earn playing time as a true freshman. He carried offers from Auburn, Louisville and others.
After the brutal start, they get an FCS reprieve before beginning Sun Belt play against Idaho. Their schedule is loaded with back-to-back home and away games, starting with Oklahoma State and Alabama A&M in Weeks 2 and 3.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||at Ole Miss|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Oklahoma State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Alabama A&M|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Idaho|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Louisiana Tech|
|Wednesday, Oct. 11||at Troy|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. UL Monroe|
|Thursday, Oct. 26||at Georgia State|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. UL Lafayette|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Arkansas State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Georgia Southern|
|Saturday, Dec. 2||at New Mexico State|