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The big 2014 Southern Miss football preview: Still picking up the pieces

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Southern Miss lost 25 games in five years, then lost 23 in two. The Golden Eagles are officially starting from scratch, and while improvement is almost guaranteed, Todd Monken's squad has a ways to go.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. It got worse

We say it a lot when we're talking about projections in college football: the biggest clue for how you will play in the future is how you've played in the past. That's not exactly profound, and it's more or less the case for any sport, but status doesn't change much in college football. And when it does, it tends to revert to form pretty quickly.

And when you're the most consistent program in FBS, this isn't supposed to happen:

You know the details by now. Lord knows I mention them in some context every year. Under Jeff Bower (until 2007) and Larry Fedora, Southern Miss finished above .500 every year from 1994 to 2011. Over the course of an 18-year span, the Golden Eagles won six games three times, seven games seven times, eight games three times, and nine games four times. Winning seasons were redundant and always accompanied by a thirst for just a bit more. Jeff Bower was pushed out after three seven-win seasons in four years, and his successor, Larry Fedora, went 7-6, 7-6, and 8-5 in his first three years.

The consistency was admirable, but there was never any sort of major breakthrough. Or at least, there hadn't been since 1999, when USM finished 9-3 and 14th in the AP Poll.

In 2011, Southern Miss got its breakthrough, finishing 12-2 and winning Conference USA.

In 2012-13, Southern Miss went 1-23.

Fedora left for North Carolina after 2011, but while USM had a pretty heavy senior class that season, it still seemed as if there were quite a few pieces left over for new head coach Ellis Johnson in 2012. Regardless, the Golden Eagles' 18-year win streak ended with a zero-win season.

And in 2013, the team got even worse. Todd Monken took over for Johnson and saw his team suffer quite a few crippling injuries and go even more drastically young than expected. Southern Miss was truly awful for most of the first two months of the season, and though the team improved late and finished with its first win in almost two years, the Golden Eagles actually ranked even lower in 2013.

There's hope in the simple fact that the team was absurdly young and will feature a lot more experience this time around. But the significance of this fall is still stunning. Southern Miss is the Pheidippides of college football, achieving an almost incomprehensible feat of stamina and consistency, proclaiming "We have won," then collapsing and dying on the spot.

2. Five-year history means nothing in Conference USA

For each conference in this preview series, I preview teams from worst to first according to five-year F/+ rankings. Since I'm not in position to make any sort of prediction until I'm done with all of the previews, I figure five-year history is a nice, neutral way to cover teams in approximate order of program health. And it works perfectly fine most of the time. For the MAC, it meant starting with UMass and Eastern Michigan and finishing with Toledo and Northern Illinois. For the Mountain West coming up, it means starting with New Mexico and finishing with Boise State.

For Conference USA, however, it means absolutely nothing. Here's what five-year history produces for us in terms of C-USA rankings:

1. Louisiana Tech (79th overall)
2. Marshall (81st)
3. Southern Miss (85th)
4. UTSA (96th)
5. North Texas (98th)
6. Western Kentucky (99th)
7. MTSU (101st)
8. Rice (103rd)
9. FIU (106th)
10. FAU (108th)
11. UTEP (110th)
12. UAB (111th)
13. ODU (N/A)

The No. 8 team on the list won the conference last year and barely ranks ahead of No. 9, which went 1-11. No. 4 has been an FBS team for all of two years, while No. 2 won 10 games in 2013 ... twice as many as No. 1 and No. 3 won, combined.

Granted, two SEC teams that went 8-16 in 2012 ended up playing in the conference title game in 2013, so it's not as if fortunes only change in Conference USA. But wow, do fortunes change quickly in Conference USA.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 120
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Texas State 107 15-22 L 21.5 - 17.3 W
7-Sep at Nebraska 39 13-56 L 20.2 - 38.8 L
14-Sep at Arkansas 87 3-24 L 12.7 - 25.7 L
28-Sep at Boise State 45 7-60 L 17.8 - 36.5 L
5-Oct Florida International 125 23-24 L 13.0 - 48.0 L -16.3
19-Oct at East Carolina 40 14-55 L 14.9 - 29.7 L -20.1
26-Oct North Texas 51 14-55 L 22.5 - 34.6 L -18.7
2-Nov at Marshall 52 13-61 L 23.0 - 45.3 L -20.6
9-Nov at Louisiana Tech 112 13-36 L 23.3 - 32.2 L -18.6
16-Nov Florida Atlantic 73 7-41 L 14.8 - 29.6 L -14.6
23-Nov Middle Tennessee 85 21-42 L 21.7 - 31.6 L -13.6
30-Nov at UAB 115 62-27 W 27.5 - 31.3 L -12.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -19.8% 121 -10.3% 102 -2.8% 108
Points Per Game 17.1 119 41.9 119
Adj. Points Per Game 19.4 119 33.4 105

3. At least it ended on a high note

You might have to squint a bit to see it, but USM did improve over the final month of the season.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Opponent 34.5, USM 18.2 (minus-16.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 31.2, USM 21.8 (minus-9.4)

A young offense got slightly more experienced, and a young defense stabilized at least a little bit after allowing 9.9 yards per play to Marshall.

And after trailing UAB, 21-13, at halftime, the Golden Eagles unleashed two seasons of frustration with a nearly perfect half of football, outscoring the Blazers by a 49-6 margin in the second half and winning their first game since the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. One game does not a turnaround make, but it was the first reason for positivity in quite a while. Better than nothing.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.20 39 IsoPPP+ 107.6 30
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 34.4% 121 Succ. Rt. + 77.9 121
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.0 111 Def. FP+ 94.4 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.0 122 Redzone S&P+ 72.2 120
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.1 ACTUAL 38 +9.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 116 116 122 111
RUSHING 123 123 123 124
PASSING 55 114 111 49
Standard Downs 114 121 21
Passing Downs 117 116 86
Q1 Rk 115 1st Down Rk 114
Q2 Rk 125 2nd Down Rk 115
Q3 Rk 104 3rd Down Rk 117
Q4 Rk 90

4. The big plays were pretty big (and scarce)

Southern Miss threw an incredible 26 interceptions in 2013; the only team within three of that total was Washington State, and the Cougars threw 271 more passes than the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss averaged 4.6 yards per play with a 34 percent success rate against a rather weak set of defenses. Average halftime score: Opponent 26, Southern Miss 7.

There are a lot of ways to say the offense was really bad, in other words. But if you look hard enough, you can find some big-play potential. IsoPPP basically measures the magnitude of a team's successful plays -- it's an explosiveness measure for only the good plays -- and while Southern Miss produced almost no big plays, the Golden Eagles ranked 30th in IsoPPP. Nine receivers caught at least one pass of 30 yards, while four running backs had a carry of at least 25. With better scheme, experience, and consistency, there might be some athleticism that can shine through.

Experience will take care of itself, but the task of scheme goes to first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who spent 2011-12 as the head coach of Spain Park High School in Alabama and spent 2013 as an offensive analyst for Gus Malzahn at Auburn. After a year with a "power rushing in a spread set" boss, he inherits an offense that passed first and passed second last fall.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Nick Mullens 6'1, 188 So. 2 stars (5.3) 136 276 1776 13 14 49.3% 25 8.3% 5.4
Allan Bridgford 112 207 1133 6 11 54.1% 11 5.0% 4.8
Ricky Lloyd 6'2, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Parker Adamson 6'4, 213 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Gunner Roach 6'2, 197 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Kendrick Hardy RB 93 417 2 4.5 5.0 33.3%
Jalen Richard RB 5'8, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 84 307 0 3.7 3.5 31.0%
Tyre Bracken RB


47 144 1 3.1 4.9 21.3%
George Payne RB 6'2, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 43 173 0 4.0 3.6 39.5%
Nick Mullens QB 6'1, 188 So. 2 stars (5.3) 15 49 2 3.3 3.4 33.3%
Jeremy Hester RB 8 17 0 2.1 1.6 12.5%
Tyre'oune Holmes WR-H 5'11, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 4 3 0 0.8 4.8 25.0%
Ito Smith RB 5'9, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)




5. No job is safe

Nick Mullens completed 51 of 86 passes (59 percent) for 659 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions in his final two games as a true-freshman starter last fall. Receiver Markese Triplett averaged almost 10 yards per target and caught 10 balls for 169 yards in those last two games. Some jobs might be safer than others.

But Mullens could get a push from any number of newcomers this spring and fall. Triplett and sophomore wideouts Tyre'oune Holmes, Marquise Ricard, and James Cox could easily get passed by youngsters like D.J. Thompson (who missed 2013 with injury) or JUCO transfers. And neither of Southern Miss' leading returning rushers, Jalen Richard or George Payne, looks infallible. This is a spring of opportunity for Southern Miss' skill position players. There are reps to be won.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tyre'oune Holmes WR-H 5'11, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 81 53 410 65.4% 18.9% 52.5% 5.1 -227 4.6 51.0
Markese Triplett WR-Y 6'4, 224 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 58 33 558 56.9% 13.5% 53.5% 9.6 132 8.5 69.5
Marquise Ricard WR-Z 6'2, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 53 24 306 45.3% 12.4% 59.0% 5.8 -46 5.9 38.1
Tyre Bracken RB


50 31 301 62.0% 11.7% 44.1% 6.0 -82 7.5 37.5
Dominique Sullivan WR-X 45 23 350 51.1% 10.5% 64.7% 7.8 35 7.5 43.6
Rickey Bradley WR-X 33 19 312 57.6% 7.7% 52.0% 9.5 68 9.9 38.8
Jalen Richard RB 5'8, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 31 21 168 67.7% 7.2% 12.0% 5.4 -80 2.8 20.9
James Cox WR 6'1, 193 So. 3 stars (5.6) 26 14 197 53.8% 6.1% 70.6% 7.6 11 9.1 24.5
Kendrick Hardy RB 10 6 64 60.0% 2.3% 62.5% 6.4 -11 7.2 8.0
Chris Briggs WR-Y


9 4 71 44.4% 2.1% 40.0% 7.9 12 9.2 8.8
JaMarcus Revies WR


9 6 55 66.7% 2.1% N/A 6.1 -16 0.0 6.8
Justin Sims WR 9 4 56 44.4% 2.1% 100.0% 6.2 -3 1.8 7.0
Kyle Sloter WR-H 6'4, 213 So. 2 stars (5.4) 9 5 35 55.6% 2.1% 100.0% 3.9 -30 3.3 4.4
Bruce Johnson FB 3 3 19 100.0% 0.7% 0.0% 6.3 -11 2.4 2.4
D.J. Thompson WR 6'3, 196 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Cooper Harrington WR 6'0, 193 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Michael Thomas WR 6'1, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kyle Foster WR 6'3, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Branton Lee WR 5'8, 163 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jayshawn Washington WR 6'1, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Korey Robertson WR 6'1, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 75.8 2.26 2.71 31.3% 72.7% 26.4% 94.2 5.8% 6.5%
Rank 125 124 110 124 40 124 77 93 59
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Ed Preston LG 33
Vincent Brown RT 20
Rashod Hill LT 6'6, 285 Jr. NR 11
Fredrick Moore RG 6'5, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 11
Cameron Tom RT 6'4, 289 So. 2 stars (5.4) 9
Jordan Greene C


6
Garrett Clark C


4
Taylor Peterson C 6'4, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 3
Aaron Reed LT


3
Randal Agee C 6'0, 277 Jr. NR 2
Oliver Bates LG 6'2, 275 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Jerry Harris DT 6'3, 302 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Devin Farrior OL 6'4, 304 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Norman Price OL 6'4, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Thomas Collins OL 6'5, 320 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)

6. The line simply must improve

When you've got a freshman quarterback, you're going to give up sacks, because his pocket presence probably isn't very well developed. When you've got sketchy running backs, your run-blocking stats aren't going to look very good, because they might not take advantage of the blocks you deliver. Of course.

But when you rank 125th in Adj. Line Yards, some of that is almost certainly on you. We won't know for sure what change Chip Lindsey intends to bring to the table in 2014, but at some point or another, USM is going to run the ball, and it needs to work infinitely better than it did last season.

Improvement is in no way guaranteed, however. Southern Miss finished 2013 with 10 players with starting experience, but only five of them return. New blood could be a good thing, and JUCO transfers Norman Price and Thomas Collins will have every opportunity to work into the rotation, but the Golden Eagles return just 36 career starts up front, one of the lower totals in the country. It probably won't get any worse from a run-blocking perspective, but it might not get a lot better.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 56 IsoPPP+ 94.3 95
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.2% 89 Succ. Rt. + 89.5 100
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.6 78 Off. FP+ 98.5 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 118 Redzone S&P+ 79.1 121
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.4 ACTUAL 19.0 -0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 100 105 100 106
RUSHING 115 65 65 107
PASSING 25 116 117 93
Standard Downs 100 96 97
Passing Downs 109 95 95
Q1 Rk 114 1st Down Rk 109
Q2 Rk 108 2nd Down Rk 101
Q3 Rk 99 3rd Down Rk 99
Q4 Rk 87

7. Playing to USM's "strengths"

Southern Miss had a pretty good run defense and a pretty awful pass defense in 2013. But opponents ran the ball constantly anyway. It played to the Golden Eagles' strengths (in air quotes), but it didn't matter because the offense was so hopeless.

Run defense could be a strength again, and this time without the air quotes. Two of the top three defensive tackles return, not including former star recruit Dylan Bradley, who moves from undersized tackle to big end. Plus, Rakeem Nunez-Roches returns after missing last season with injury. Lanky end Dasman McCullum made quite a few big plays last fall (while failing to do much in terms of mundane plays), and a trio of three-star redshirt freshmen are available this year as well. At linebacker, Alan Howze returns after a medical redshirt -- he was on pace for 78 tackles and more than 10 tackles for loss before getting hurt last year -- and joins a pair of players who more or less held their own last year (Terrick Wright and C.J. Perry).

Of course, Southern Miss will still need a pass rush. Last year's wasn't very good. But if the Eagles can simply force opponents to pass, that's a step in the right direction.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 101.6 2.61 3.80 41.0% 72.7% 20.2% 56.5 3.9% 2.7%
Rank 54 23 112 84 95 47 119 77 123
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Octavius Thomas BAN 12 38.5 5.1% 4.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Dylan Bradley DE 6'1, 265 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11 38.0 5.1% 4.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rakeem Nunez-Roches
(2012)
DT 6'2, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 29.5 4.4% 6.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Adam Williams DT 6'2, 294 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 29.5 3.9% 8.5 3.0 0 0 1 0
Khyri Thornton DT 11 27.5 3.7% 6.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Dasman McCullum DE 6'4, 237 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 25.5 3.4% 10.5 2.5 0 4 0 0
Michael Smith DE 6'4, 262 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 23.5 3.1% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Wil Freeman DT 6'6, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 10.5 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ja'Boree Poole BAN 6'2, 240 So. 2 stars (5.3) 8 9.5 1.3% 1.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Nic Bekkers DE 6'5, 244 Sr. NR 12 6.0 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rod Crayton DT 6'1, 302 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Christopher Robinson DL 6'2, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Draper Riley DT 6'4, 284 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Xavier Thigpen DE 6'5, 233 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Jon Michael Edwards DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Terrick Wright WLB 6'2, 216 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 67.0 8.9% 4.0 0.0 1 2 1 0
Dylan Reda WLB 8 35.5 4.7% 3.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
C.J. Perry, Jr. MLB 6'0, 231 So. 2 stars (5.2) 12 31.5 4.2% 5.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Alan Howze MLB 6'3, 227 Sr. 3 stars (5.5 4 26.0 3.5% 3.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
David Bertucci SLB 5'11, 200 Jr. NR 12 10.5 1.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ta'Dren Kennedy MLB 5'7, 218 Sr. NR 12 9.5 1.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Penn SLB 6'1, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 8.5 1.1% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jerry McCorvey LB 6'3, 249 So. 2 stars (5.4) 4 7.0 0.9% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Flanders LB


10 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lelland Ducksworth LB 6'1, 207 So. 3 stars (5.6) 1 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jerry McCorvey LB 6'3, 249 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Darian Yancey LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Picasso Nelson, Jr. DB 5'11, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)
Cornell Armstrong DB 6'0, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Debarriaus Miller SPUR 5'10, 183 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 70.5 9.4% 4.5 0 1 2 1 0
Kelsey Douglas BS 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 50.5 6.7% 3.5 0 1 1 1 0
Emmanuel Johnson FS 5'11, 182 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 46.5 6.2% 0.5 0 1 1 1 0
Jacorius Cotton
(2012)
S 5'11, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5 9 34.5 5.1% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Kalan Reed CB 5'11, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 30.0 4.0% 2.5 0 1 5 1 1
Ed Wilkins CB 5'10, 171 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 27.5 3.7% 0 0 1 3 1 0
Alex Smith SPUR 7 22.0 2.9% 5 0 0 0 1 0
Alexander Walters CB 11 20.5 2.7% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Jerrion Johnson SPUR 12 18.5 2.5% 2.5 1 0 0 0 0
Urell Johnson CB 5'10, 177 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Evan Osborne DB 6'3, 198 So. 2 stars (5.3) 11 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jomez Applewhite DB 6'1, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Trae Collins DB 5'11, 181 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Curtis Mikell DB 5'8, 165 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Quade Alexander DB 6'0, 165 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Xavier Marion DB 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

8. Depth + experience = options

Of the five leading tacklers in the secondary last season, one was a freshman and three were sophomores. Southern Miss was pretty decent at attacking the line of scrimmage with its SPUR safety -- the three players listed as SPURs above combined for 12 tackles for loss last year -- but the combination of youth and a non-existent pass rush was, shall we say, unfavorable for USM. Again, opponents were content to run, but they could still pass when they needed to, completing 66 percent of their passes, albeit at only 11.9 yards per completion.

With any help from a pass rush, the defensive backfield could improve quite a bit in 2014, not only because of experience, but because of the return of Jacorius Cotton from academic issues. Cotton is a big-hitter and another potential play-maker, and with just a little bit of extra pressure on the quarterback, USM's pass rankings should rise.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Sarrazin 6'3, 190 So. 44 39.4 2 10 8 40.9%
Matthew Moseley 5'10, 164 Jr. 18 40.9 0 3 9 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Corey Acosta 6'0, 195 Sr. 45 60.0 8 1 17.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Corey Acosta 6'0, 195 Sr. 24-24 8-14 57.1% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Justin Sims KR 19 21.9 0
Emmanuel Johnson KR 5'11, 182 Sr. 11 25.5 0
Emmanuel Johnson PR 5'11, 182 Sr. 4 8.3 0
Jalen Richard PR 5'8, 208 Jr. 4 16.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 108
Field Goal Efficiency 107
Punt Return Efficiency 104
Kick Return Efficiency 66
Punt Efficiency 118
Kickoff Efficiency 20
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 18

9. Hope in the return game

Free safety Emmanuel Johnson and running back Jalen Richard were inconsistent in 2013, but they showed significant potential in the return game, albeit in a small sample. If they can provide above-average returns and Corey Acosta is given a reason to kick off a few more times (Southern Miss' kick coverage was quite strong), then the Golden Eagles could do pretty well in the field position game. Acosta wasn't much of a place-kicker -- he missed six of 14 field goals under 40 yards -- but you have to worry about creating opportunities before you worry about converting those opportunities into points. Field position helps with that.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Mississippi State 29
6-Sep Alcorn State NR
13-Sep at Alabama 1
20-Sep Appalachian State NR
27-Sep Rice 88
4-Oct at Middle Tennessee 99
18-Oct at North Texas 94
25-Oct Louisiana Tech 98
1-Nov at UTEP 117
8-Nov Marshall 59
15-Nov at UTSA 75
29-Nov UAB 115
Five-Year F/+ Rk -8.9% (85)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 79
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -19 / -8.7
TO Luck/Game -4.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (7, 9)

10. Results probably don't matter yet

The receiving corps and most of the defense is deep and potentially athletic, the offense isn't going to be worse (it almost can't be), and the defense could develop into an actual strength to some degree in 2014. By default, Southern Miss should expect to improve this fall, but while one year could be considered an aberration, you don't sink as far as the Golden Eagles have in the last two years and expect to rebound quickly.

That there are only four teams on the schedule projected worse than 100th suggests that improvement could result in only three to four wins, but that would still be three to four times more wins than they have managed since Larry Fedora left. The 18-year win streak is very much in the rearview mirror, and it's time to start building from scratch.

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