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You can read the entire Southern Miss Golden Eagles preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 SEC magazine (there's a special C-USA spread in our SEC issues), available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#82 Southern Miss
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ellis Johnson, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Buckley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tommy West
Not only does Southern Miss have to recover from the loss of head coach Larry Fedora, a brilliant offensive mind, but the Golden Eagles will also be operating without a veteran quarterback. Ellis Johnson, who worked under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, takes over for Fedora. Who takes over for quarterback Austin Davis is anyone’s guess. Southern Miss had the luxury of running its offense with the same starting quarterback, Davis, the past three-plus seasons. This fall, the Golden Eagles likely will go with junior Chris Campbell or redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd, neither of whom has taken a snap at Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles will also be without leading rusher Jamal Woodyard — who suffered a major knee injury in the Hawaii Bowl and then was arrested on an armed robbery charge in May — leaving the running game to senior Desmond Johnson and juniors Jeremy Hester and Kendrick Hardy. Hester was impressive in the spring with his elusiveness and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Tracey Lampley is an undersized but talented playmaker at wide receiver. Lampley ranked second on the team in rushing, third in receiving and was the Eagles’ top return specialist. Markese Triplett could be a factor after moving from tight end to receiver, where his 6'4", 225-pound frame could create matchup problems.
The Golden Eagles will be strong up front, where they likely will start four seniors. Jason Weaver moves from right to left tackle. Johnson hopes to incorporate more of a power running game into the offense.
Johnson served the past four seasons as the defensive boss at South Carolina and hired former Memphis head coach Tommy West to coordinate his Golden Eagles defense. Defense will be a priority in Hattiesburg.
Ends Dasman McCullum and Jamie Collins should give Southern Miss a strong presence up front. Collins had a stellar season in which he recorded 19 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and an interception that he returned 97 yards.
The linebackers will be inexperienced. Junior Alan Howze will be joined in the rotation by two redshirt freshmen, Chauncey Smith and Terrick Wright, and junior college transfer Dylan Reda.
The defense’s strength is the secondary, where cornerback Deron Wilson and safety Jacorius Cotton return. Wilson had a team-leading four interceptions for 114 return yards and two touchdowns and a team-best 13 pass breakups.
Southern Miss returns Peter Boehme, who ranked third in the conference in punting, but will be replacing dependable kicker Danny Hrapmann. Sophomore Corey Acosta should move into Hrapmann’s role after making his only two attempts a year ago, including a 42-yarder. The return game should be solid provided Lampley stays in the role. He led the conference with an 11.5-yard punt return average.
Southern Miss is coming off a school-record 12-win season, a league title, a bowl win and top-20 year-end national ranking. Johnson won’t be expected to repeat that magical run, especially with Nebraska, Boise State and Louisville on the non-conference schedule. Johnson will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and playing without his leading rusher. Also, the defense must replace several key pieces.
Southern Miss still has talent — more than most teams in the league. But the Golden Eagles figure to take a small step back in 2012.