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South Alabama Football: 2018 Jaguars Preview and Prediction

Jamarius Way, South Alabama Football

Jamarius Way, South Alabama Football

New South Alabama head coach Steve Campbell was part of two Division II national titles, winning as a player at Troy in 1987 and as a head coach at Delta State in 2000. And he was head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast for a 2007 junior college national championship. Most recently, Campbell guided Central Arkansas to a Southland Conference title in the FCS ranks. He takes over a USA program that's been competitive, reaching six wins in three of the past five seasons.

Previewing South Alabama Football's Offense for 2018

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2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

Campbell has several tasks in succeeding Joey Jones, and reviving USA's ground game is certainly among them. The Jaguars averaged only 97.3 rushing yards per game, fifth worst in FBS, and their inability to run the ball contributed to several low-scoring losses. The job goes to offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield, who made Troy one of the Sun Belt's best offenses over the past decade in the same role. But there is no quick fix to the ground game. USA must replace all-time leading rusher Xavier Johnson and build much-needed depth on an inconsistent offensive line.

Running back Tra Minter had 341 rushing yards and 247 receiving yards last season. He will share carries and catches with Tywun Walters, who will miss the first two games due to suspension, and Deonta Moore, who has mostly excelled on special teams. But with no clear-cut answer at running back, the position will be a work in progress. Junior Ryan Alexander is a talented right tackle, but look for movement on the rest of the line until consistency is found. Left tackle Noah Fisher decided to leave the program as a graduate transfer in the summer.

There may be more immediate offense in the passing game with the return of a deep receiving corps, led by Jamarius Way (762 yards) and Sam Harris (570). Quarterback is a big question that may remain unanswered deep into camp. Former starter Dallas Davis left the team in the spring. Redshirt freshman Cephus Johnson appears to have the lead over Cole Garvin (seven TDs, seven INTs), but Edenfield likely will take his time in choosing his starter.

Previewing South Alabama Football's Defense for 2018

There is talent and experience on the USA defense, but also limitations because of a lack of pressure up front. The Jaguars were among the worst in the nation last season in sacks and tackles for a loss. Some help could come from Riley Cole, who moved from linebacker to Bandit end as an edge rusher. And two years after transferring from Missouri, Rocel McWilliams is due for a big year at the opposite end.

At linebacker, Bull Barge leads a group that adds athletic Alabama transfer Shawn Jennings. The secondary has the most upside, but that will only show up with a complementary pass rush. Jalen Thompson was one of the Sun Belt's best cover cornerbacks in 2016 before taking an academic redshirt last season. Fellow cornerback Darian Mills had 13 pass breakups last season, most in the league. And safety Nigel Lawrence is the top returning tackler with 83 takedowns.

Previewing South Alabama Football's Specialists for 2018

USA is blessed with big legs in a pair of all-conference first-teamers. Corliss Waitman averaged 45.2 yards per punt, ranking eighth in FBS. Gavin Patterson made 16-of-19 field goals, leading the Sun Belt with an 84.2 percent success rate.

Final Analysis

South Alabama has been competitive, but the roster needs re-tooling, and the Jaguars won't win consistently without major strides on offense. It may be difficult to earn bowl eligibility, but the schedule does line up for a late-season surge, with four of the final six games at home.

College Football Rankings: South Alabama

NATIONAL RANKING: 112

SUN BELT WEST PREDICTION: 4