Todd Monken saw improvement at Southern Miss in his second season. However, the talent level for the Eagles simply wasn't good enough for Monken to compete in Conference USA. However, seven starters are back on offense and he is slowly beginning to restock the roster with depth. But is it enough for Southern Miss to reach a bowl game or compete in the C-USA West Division?
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Previewing Southern Miss’ Offense for 2015
Todd Monken begins his third season at Southern Miss hoping to keep the Golden Eagles trending back toward their successful past. USM enters the fall having improved from a disastrous 0–12 in 2012 to 1–11 in 2013 and 3–9 in 2014. The last time Southern Miss endured three straight losing seasons was 1929-31. Monken may get the Golden Eagles winning again by creating healthy competition at the quarterback position. He returns Nick Mullens, who has started 16 games, and adds TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who was recruited by Monken to Oklahoma State when he was the Big 12 school’s offensive coordinator. Matthews, a better runner than Mullens, will be familiar with the USM offense. Mullens passed for 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns last year despite missing several games with a foot injury.
At running back, 5'9" Ito Smith is back after leading the Golden Eagles with 536 rushing yards. George Payne, solid in short-yardage situations, has scored most of the team’s rushing touchdowns the past two seasons, while sophomore Tez Parks is USM’s most powerful back and averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year. Southern Miss needs much more production from its backs after the rushing offense ranked last in Conference USA.
Monken beefed up the Golden Eagles’ offensive line in his latest recruiting class, including four mid-year transfers who participated in spring workouts. USM finds itself with its best depth up front since Monken arrived, as four starters return.
Sure-handed Casey Martin is a possession receiver who led the Golden Eagles with 55 catches a year ago. Outside receiver Michael Thomas also was one of Mullens’ top targets with 592 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Previewing Southern Miss’ Defense for 2015
Known for their stout defensive reputation, the Golden Eagles have fallen in recent seasons. They ranked ninth in the league in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense. USM also ranked last in the league in turnover margin, losing 26 and gaining only 16.
It doesn’t help the Golden Eagles that defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches left after his junior season to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft or that the top three tacklers — safeties Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson and linebacker Alan Howze — completed their eligibility.
Senior linebacker Brian Anderson, the top returning tackler, is back to provide leadership along with Elijah Parker. D’Nerius Antoine, a midyear signee, quickly established himself at a hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot in the spring.
In the secondary, there’s not a better name in the league than Picasso Nelson Jr., who may move from cornerback to safety this fall. Junior college transfers Deshadrick Truly and Devonta Foster could step in and be factors, too.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Southern Miss’ Specialists for 2015
The Golden Eagles must find a replacement for kicker Corey Acosta, who made 19-of-25 attempts last year, including a 52-yarder. Among those competing for the spot is UAB transfer Nick Vogel, who redshirted last fall, and Parker Shaunfield. Punter Tyler Sarrazin is back after averaging 39.5 yards on 66 kicks.
With September games against Mississippi State and Nebraska, the early season schedule will be daunting for a rebuilding program that has only four wins the past three years. But Monken is moving toward opening up his offense as he adds depth. Matthews, the TCU transfer at quarterback, could be an interesting addition on offense if he beats out Mullens. Regardless, the offense must improve. The Golden Eagles scored only 23 touchdowns, which ranked 12th among the league’s 13 schools, and averaged only 19.0 points per game.