Southern Miss was ranked 34th in a recent CBS Sports poll. That same ledger had Kentucky at 74th. Thirty spots are a vast exaggeration of existing personnel, but never doubt that the Golden Eagles are not fully capable and talented enough to march into Commonwealth Stadium and win. A seven-point underdog in the early line, USM will be hungry, confident, and eager for their northern trek to Lexington on September 3.
Why the disparity in the polls? Easy answer, senior quarterback Nick Mullens. Mullens threw for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns a year ago. Several sources rate him as the nation’s top returning statistical, pro-style quarterback. More on Mullens later. Southern Miss has a new coaching staff. Jay Hopson returned to Hattiesburg after a successful stint at Alcorn State, where he posted a 32-17 record. Alcorn State had severely struggled before Hopson. The former Southern Miss defensive coordinator is expected make defensive calls from the sidelines.
Offensively, USM is led by a familiar face. Former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson departed Lexington after one season and eventually landed at Brett Favre’s alma mater. At times, his Kentucky offense lacked imagination and late-season production. Fresh memories from the Vanderbilt first-and-goal debacles as well as other futilities have the BBN feeling confident. But again, Nick Mullens is a game changer.
The following is a statistical look at the 2015 Southern Miss Golden Eagles:
Record: 9-5, finished 2nd in Conference USA
All 5 losses were on the road: At Mississippi State 16-34 (Trailed 14-10 at halftime), at Nebraska 28-36, at Marshall 10-31, at WKU 28-45, and Washington in the Heart of Texas Bowl 31-44.
Game before UK: None
Game after UK: Savannah State; this is important to remember for preseason camp purposes.
Returning starters: 7
Points per game: 39.9
Yards per game: 509.5
Three best players:
- Senior quarterback Nick Mullens: 331/521, 4476 yards, 38 TD passes, 12 interceptions
- Junior running back Ito Smith: 171 carries for 1128 yards, 10 touchdowns, averaged 6.6 yards per carry
- Senior center Cameron Tom: Rimington Trophy Watch List
Returning starters: 6
Tackles for loss: 95
Quarterback sacks: 32
Yards allowed per game: 379.5
Points allowed per game: 25.6
Three best players:
- Senior defensive tackle Dylan Bradley: 6.5 QB sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss
- Senior linebacker/Safety: D’Nerius Antoine: 103 tackles
- Junior safety Picasso Nelson: 59 tackles
As stated before, USM opens with UK and then returns home to face hapless Savannah State. Rest assure that preseason camp will be heavily focused on the Wildcats as it likely perceives the opener as highly winnable. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll go into detail by analyzing the depth chart, tendencies, and schemes.