With Kentucky’s opening game of the 2016 college football season only days away, we take a look at its first opponent: the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss.
As it will do each and every Wednesday evening of the season, KSR’s new “Show Me My Opponent” series will provide an in-depth look at the upcoming opposing school, its history, its football team and anything else we feel Kentucky fans should know ahead of kickoff. It’s all you need in one convenient place
So without further ado, how you want it, show me my opponent.
THE UNIVERSITY of SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
The University of Southern Mississippi — or simply Southern Miss, as it is known in the streets — was founded on March 30, 1910 as Mississippi Normal College. It has since gone by a number of different names, from Mississippi State Teachers College to Mississippi Southern College to Kids Who Couldn’t Get Into Ole Miss.
The third-largest public university in the state with an enrollment of 14,579, Southern Miss is located in the pretentious (by Mississippi’s standards) city of Hattiesburg, nicknamed “The Hub City” because it sits at the intersections of Interstate 59 and U.S. Routes 11, 49, and 98. It is in Hattiesburg where you can find Camp Shelby, the largest National Guard training base east of the Mississippi River; the de Grummond Exhibit, the world’s largest collection of original manuscripts and illustrations in the field of children’s literature; and too many people who still find it acceptable to proudly fly the Confederate Flag in 2016.
More fun Southern Miss and Hattiesburg facts:
— The university’s British Studies program regularly sends more than 200 students to live and study in the heart of London. “Anything to get me the f*** out of Mississippi,” one student said of his experience abroad.
— Hattiesburg has a Books-A-Million, in case you were wondering if there were any Books-A-Millions left in the world.
— The university’s Center for Writers is one of the Top 10 in the country, according to The New York Times Book Review.
— The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was suspended when one of its pledges broke into the Hattiesburg zoo and stole two flamingos. The pledge, an idiot, was caught via a SnapChat video of him rapping about the incident. The lovable little birds died.
— Hattiesburg is not Starkville, so it has that going for it.
SOUTHERN MISS TRADITIONS
“Southern Miss To The Top!” is the official motto and rallying cry of Southern Miss athletics. It is shouted during games and can often be seen on social media as the hashtag #SMTTT. It is also the name of the school’s fight song.
The Southern Miss Shout Out is another cheer associated with the university. It goes “S -OU-THERN-Southern Mississippi-USM!” and I have no idea how to sound that out.
The Nasty Bunch is the name of the football team’s defense. Fans cry out for the Nasty Bunch after third-down stops and other significant defensive plays.
Students paint messages on the Little Rock on campus…
Here, I’ll give it a try…
NOTABLE SOUTHERN MISS PEOPLE
Brett Favre: The NFL Hall of Famer played his college ball in Hattiesburg from 1987-90. Southern Miss was the only school to offer him a scholarship out of high school and he was recruited as a defensive back, not a quarterback. Favre, still hoping to play under center, entered his freshman season as the seventh-string QB on the roster; he then took over in the second half of the third game that season and never looked back. He would later admit to playing that first game through a throbbing hangover from the night before.
Jimmy Buffett: After stops at Auburn and Pearl River Community College, Jimmy Buffett received a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern Miss in 1969. Of course, Buffett took a different career path once he packed up his guitar and moved to Nashville out of college. That career led to an estimated $400 million net worth (behind only Paul McCartney and Bono on the Richest Lead Singers list) and caused many a Parrothead hangovers, which I know all too well having attended 13 of his shows, two of which I actually remember.
Donnie Tyndall: Southern Miss would prefer Donnie Tyndall’s name be removed from any association with the university, but the former Golden Eagles head basketball coach will forever be linked to the school due to the time he almost destroyed the basketball program. Following his two seasons with SMU, Tyndall, at his new cushy Tennessee job, was busted for a long list of NCAA violations in Hattiesburg. His blatant cheating and rule-breaking earned him a 10-year show-cause penalty, the longest ever imposed on a head coach. Among the many allegations and violations, Tyndall was busted for paying players and flying staff members across the country to do classwork for potential recruits. Needless to say, we won’t be seeing the former Morehead State coach around college basketball anytime soon.
INSTAGRAM SCOUTING REPORT
Because, it’s, um, important to scout Instagram. I didn’t want to do it. I had to do it.
SO WHO’S THE HEAD COACH?
Jay Hopson is in his first season as head coach of the Golden Eagles football team. He was hired from Alcorn State, where he coached the Braves to a 28-10 record over the course of the last three seasons, after a 4-7 record in 2012, his first year as a head coach.
Hopson is a Mississippi native and a former member of the Ole Miss football team. He served as an assistant at Southern Miss from 2001-03 and again from 2005-07.
He was named preseason Conference USA Coach of the Year, despite having never coached in a Division I football game.
But above all that, he hired Shannon Dawson to be his offensive coordinator.
And that’s a ballsy play.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
|#9 | NICK MULLENS | QB | Senior
(2015: 331-521, 63.5%, 4,476 yds, 33 TDs, 12 INTs)
Mullens is the reigning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and one of the best quarterbacks Kentucky will face all season. He is missing some of his favorite targets from a year ago, but he has NFL talent.
|#25 | ITO SMITH | RB | Junior
(2015: 171 att, 1,128 yds, 10 TDs; 49 rec, 515 yds, 10 TDs)
ProFootballFocus.com ranked Ito Smith third in its Best Big-Play Running Backs In College Football rankings. 60 percent of his rushing yards come from plays of 15 or more yards, according to the website.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound back was named Preseason All-Conference USA.
|#82 | TYLER SARRAZIN | P | Junior (RS)
(45 punts, 38.5 avg; 2 TDs)
Tyler Sarrazin is the punter for Southern Miss. He’s one to watch because, not only will he be punting a lot, he’s a specialist with the fake.
Last year he completed two passes, one leading to a touchdown, and ran for another TD.
Southern Miss isn’t the non-conference cupcake Kentucky fans would prefer to see in Week 1. It’s a team that ranked 12th nationally in total offense a year ago and it returns its star quarterback, along with several other very good players on both sides of the ball. But it does have a brand new coaching staff and it’s on the road against an SEC program, albeit Kentucky.
So here’s what’s going to happen: It will be a back-and-forth contest with both teams scoring often and with ease. The Cats’ front seven will struggle to put pressure on Nick Mullens and the Southern Miss defense won’t be able to clog up the middle to contain UK’s rushing attack. Eddie Gran will run it down the Eagles’ throats, using four running backs, and carry a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Southern Miss will respond, though, with Mullens finding Ito Smith on a screen that goes 40 yards for a score. SMU will hold the Cats to a field goal on the next possession, and then take the ball back with four minutes to go and a chance to win.
Mullens will move the ball across the 50 with quick, short passes, but Denzil Ware will catch him for a sack that forces a 3rd-and-long with 36 seconds to go and no timeouts. Mullens, still completely composed in the moment, will command the hurry-up and look to Shannon Dawson for the call.
It’s a halfback draw.
Mullens won’t understand the call — after all, he’ll have no timeouts and about 16 yards for a first down — but he’ll remember Dawson’s message to the offense, the message that is painted on the new locker room wall: “It’s a good play when it works.” With that in mind, Mullens will take the snap and hand it off to Smith, who will collide with Matt Elam at the line of scrimmage and fall forward for about a two-yard gain.
The clock will run out.
Ball game, Kentucky.