Southern Mississippi ready to rebound
Southern Mississippi’s football program endured a disastrous
freefall last season.
First-year coach Todd Monken is confident the turnaround can
happen just as quickly.
The former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator says the Golden
Eagles have the talent to win quickly, despite a 0-12 record last
season. Now Monken’s charge is installing a new offense and defense
and finding the most talented players to execute his plan
regardless of experience level.
”We have a lot of (inexperienced) guys like that on this
team,” Monken said. ”So what? So do a lot of teams. That’s what
(coaches) are supposed to do – figure it out. Put the pressure on
them in practice. That’s what you try to do, make it hard.”
Southern Miss has had plenty of success in the recent past.
The Golden Eagles had a 12-2 record, won a Conference USA
championship and the Hawaii Bowl in 2011 before offensive-minded
coach Larry Fedora left for the North Carolina job.
In came veteran coach Ellis Johnson – who was known more for his
defensive acumen – and Southern Miss quickly fell apart in a
historically bad 2012 season. Johnson was fired soon after the
When Southern Miss hired Monken, they couldn’t have found a
coach much more similar to Fedora. Both were offensive coordinators
at Oklahoma State before being hired at USM and both put lots of
points on the scoreboard.
But Monken is still trying to find a quarterback at Southern
Miss who can run his high-tempo offense. The three main candidates
are spring starter Cole Weeks, California transfer Allan Bridgford
and returner Ricky Lloyd.
Whoever wins the job will lead Southern Miss through a
treacherous September schedule. The Golden Eagles have road games
against Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State.
Southern Miss will likely lean on some of the veterans on
defense, like defensive back Deron Wilson and linebacker Alan
Howze, to guide the team through those early weeks while the
offense is adjusting to new personnel.
Wilson said the Golden Eagles’ home opener against Texas State
on Aug. 31 is crucial. The senior has been through the good times
and bad, and said a victory is needed to wipe away the bad feelings
from last year.
”Winning solidifies the swagger,” Wilson said. ”But we’re
playing confident right now.”
Five things to watch as Southern Miss prepares for its first
season under coach Todd Monken:
1. A NEW START: The one-year Ellis Johnson era was disaster for
Southern Miss, which plummeted to 0-12 just one season after
winning 12 games. Johnson was fired and in comes Todd Monken, who
was known for his innovative offense at Oklahoma State. Monken says
there’s enough talent on the roster for a quick turnaround, but the
Golden Eagles must shake off last season’s nightmare.
2. QUARTERBACK PLAY: Monken wants to run a high-tempo offense,
but first he’s got to find a quarterback who can handle the job.
There’s not an obvious replacement, though it appears the starter
will come from a three-man battle involving spring starter Cole
Weeks, California transfer Allan Bridgford and returner Ricky
3. NAVIGATING SEPTEMBER: Southern Miss has a brutal stretch of
road games in September, with Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State
all waiting. Those aren’t easy games for a program that will
probably need some time to find its footing with a new coach, new
scheme and inexperienced quarterback.
4. NEW-LOOK CONFERENCE: There are lots of new faces in
Conference USA thanks to conference realignment and the Golden
Eagles will be playing several unfamiliar foes. There could be some
interesting new conference rivalries develop with regional foes
like Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee.
5. REVAMPED DEFENSE: Though it was the Southern Miss offense
that took the brunt of the criticism last season, the defense
wasn’t particularly good either. Veterans like defensive back Deron
Wilson and linebacker Alan Howze need to have big seasons for the
Golden Eagles to improve.
Predicted finish: Fifth in East Division.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: