2011 Southern Miss Preview
Southern Miss QB Austin Davis
Southern Miss QB Austin Davis
Posted May 13, 2011

Is this the year Southern Miss goes from good to special? The defense should be better and the offense will finish among the top 15 in the country again. With the right schedule and a nice mix of talents, it's not crazy to think the Golden Eagles might be in the hunt for a BCS game. Check out the CFN 2011 USM preview, along with a matchup breakdown against Oct. 1 opponent, Rice.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2011

- 2011 Southern Miss Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Offense
- 2011 Southern Miss Defense | 2011 Southern Miss Depth Chart
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- 2011 Key Opponent  2011 Rice Preview 

By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Larry Fedora
4th year: 22-17
Returning Lettermen
Off. 20, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Southern Miss Players
1. QB Austin Davis, Sr.
2. LB Korey Williams, Sr.
3. PK Danny Hrapmann, Sr.
4. DE Cordarro Law, Sr.
5. RB Kendrick Hardy, Soph.
6. LB Ronnie Thornton, Sr.
7. BAN Jamie Collins, Jr.
8. WR Kelvin Bolden, Sr.
9. RB Desmond Johnson, Jr.
10. DT Terrance Pope, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Louisiana Tech
Sep. 10 at Marshall
Sep. 17 SE Louisiana
Sep. 24 at Virginia
Oct. 1 Rice
Oct. 8 at Navy
Oct. 22 SMU
Oct. 29 at UTEP
Nov. 5 at East Carolina
Nov. 12 UCF
Nov. 19 at UAB
Nov. 26 Memphis

The metaphorical hump that Southern Miss can't seem to get over is beginning to look like a mountain range to those around Hattiesburg.

The Golden Eagles have strung together 17 consecutive winning seasons. Impressive, right? On the surface, there's a level of consistency that's laudable, but only until you realize that the program hasn't won 10 games since 1988 when Brett Favre was still on campus.

 Or that it's lost at least five times in every year since 2004. While fourth-year head coach Larry Fedora has injected more energy and some unique looks on both sides of the ball, the results have been familiar, 22 wins, 17 defeats, and ho-hum bowl games against Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, and Troy. Isn't this the kind of mediocrity that got long-time head man Jeff Bower fired following the 2007 campaign?

While his job isn't in jeopardy, Fedora needs to guide the Eagles to higher ground this season. People are getting impatient with seven or eight-win years and an absence of red-letter victories. The one-time giant killer is still searching for its first signature non-conference win under the current regime. Good news comes from a roster built for success in 2011. Southern Miss feels it has enough well-placed returning starters to nab an East Division that's going to be up for grabs. The spread offense, which performed so well in 2010, returns all-star QB Austin Davis and a couple of rising stars at running back, Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson. The defense is getting an overhaul, with new coordinator Dan Disch installing an attacking 4-2-5 system. His best inheritance, LB Korey Williams, opted to stay in school for one more year rather than turn pro. Special teams is above average and led by All-American PK Danny Hrapmann.

Southern Miss has enough veteran talent to win a league championship in 2011, its first in eight years. Does it have the make-up and defensive adjustments to actually deliver in November and December? If not, barbed wire may begin growing around that hump, separating the Eagles from their goals.

What to watch for on offense: Hardy's stock. Southern Miss had to go the extra mile to land RB Kendrick Hardy two years ago, prying him away from more prominent schools. He's already been worth the time and effort. After redshirting in 2009, he went into action last fall, leading the team with 903 yards and seven scores on just 139 carries. His 6.5 yards per carry was notable, but even more so for a powerful 6-0, 217-pound runner. Now a sophomore, he'll share time with junior Desmond Johnson and the spotlight with star QB Austin Davis, but will see his stock soar as more national observers start paying attention.

What to watch for on defense: Wilson's whereabouts. The single greatest concern, on either side of the ball, is the defensive backfield, a group that struggled when it was veteran-laden in 2010. Now that the five-man set could be comprised of four new starters, there's some serious hand-wringing going on. The Golden Eagles desperately need sophomore CB Deron Wilson to get his act together away from the field before summer drills begin. The program's best cover guy in just his first year, he was forced to sit out the spring, further clouding an already murky situation.

The team will be far better if… it improves dramatically in the red zone. Whether it was on offense or defense, the patch of turf closest to the end zone was littered with landmines for Southern Miss a year ago. The Golden Eagle attack ranked 70th in the country at producing red zone touchdowns, helping fuel PK Danny Hrapmann as a Groza Award finalist. The defense was far worse, ranking 111th and allowing six points on almost three-quarters of the opponents' red zone trips.

The Schedule: It's all there for a big season. The UCF East showdown is at home, while missing Houston and Tulsa from the West is a huge break. The non-conference schedule is manageable with Louisiana Tech, SE Louisiana, at Virginia, and at Navy all winnable. A stretch of three road games in four wek over the second half of the year will be a little rough, but two of the games are at UTEP and UAB.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Austin Davis. Davis arrived in Hattiesburg with dreams of playing baseball for the Golden Eagles. He's ended up being a successful hurler after all. A near perfect fit for the spread offense, he has an accurate arm and the running ability to beat defenses on the ground. In a peerless return from an injury-riddled sophomore season, he accounted for more than 3,500 yards, throwing 20 touchdown passes, running for 10 more, and even catching a touchdown pass. More than that, he doesn't make mistakes and is the even-keeled leader and face of the program.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Korey Williams. Had Williams decided to turn pro in January, he almost certainly would have been drafted at some point on the third day in April. Instead, he's back in school, looking to terrorize opponents and improve his draft grade. One of the country's top inside linebackers, he has it all at the position. A solid 6-2, 243-pounder, he's been playing since his rookie year, sifting through the traffic and showcasing the diagnostic skills of a surgeon. His numbers dipped a bit to 92 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, and three sacks, but he's likely to erupt in a system that'll ask him to do more freelancing.

Key players to a successful season: Senior LT Lamar Holmes. The Golden Eagles can't reach their goals in 2011 if QB Austin Davis isn't able to operate in an uncongested pocket. That responsibility, in part, will fall on the new left tackle, senior Lamar Holmes. An imposing 6-6, 336-pounder, he started five games in his debut out of junior college, progressing on the fly. He has no problem manhandling the opposition, but needs to remain light on his feet and flexible at the knees in order to match pass rushers who'll sometimes be 100 pounds lighter than him.

The season will be a success if ... Southern Miss wins the East Division. New year, same goal. No one in this half of Conference USA is unbeatable, and it's about time that the Golden Eagles advance their agenda another step forward. It's a program with a fourth-year head coach and prominent seniors on both sides of the ball, meaning anything less than a divisional crown could be viewed as underachieving.

Key game: Nov. 12 vs. UCF. While East Carolina will clearly be in the mix as well, the Knights and Golden Eagles will begin the season as the two favorites to win the East Division. Southern Miss actually pulled the upset in Orlando last November, handing the Knights their only conference loss of 2010, but still finished in a second place tie. No game will have a more profound impact of the race than this one at Roberts Stadium.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Average yards a carry: Southern Miss 4.7 – Opponents 3.6
- Third down conversions: Southern Miss 49% – Opponents 34%
- Sacks: Southern Miss 27 - Opponents 17

- 2011 Southern Miss Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Offense
- 2011 Southern Miss Defense | 2011 Southern Miss Depth Chart
- Southern Miss Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006