2008 CFN Southern Miss Preview

Posted May 20, 2008

With a new head coach and a changed up offense, Southern Miss will be different, but it'll still play anyone, any time, anywhere. Check out the CFN USM preview highlighting two of the best players you've likely never seen (but the NFL knows all about) in RB Damion Fletcher and LB Gerald McRath.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2008

By Richard Cirminiello

Interested in blogging about Conference USA football?  Let us know

Preview USM's opening day opponent  2008 CFN UL Lafayette Preview

- 2008 CFN Southern Miss Preview | 2008 USM Offense
- 2008 USM Defense
| 2008 USM Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Southern Miss Preview
| 2006 CFN Southern Miss Preview 

Head coach: Larry Fedora
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 18, Def. 19, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best USM Players
1. LB Gerald McRath, Jr.
2. RB Damion Fletcher, Jr.
3. TE Shawn Nelson, Sr.
4. OT Ryan McKee, Sr.
5. WR Torris Magee, Soph.
6. FS Eddie Hicks, Jr.
7. OT Calvin Wilson, Jr.
8. LB Tokumbo Abanikanda, Sr.
9. P/K Britt Barefoot, Sr.
10. CB C.J. Bailey, Soph.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 UL Lafayette
Sept. 6 at Auburn
Sept. 13 at Arkansas State
Sept. 20 Marshall
Sept. 27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 UTEP
Oct. 11 Boise State
Oct. 18 at Rice
Oct. 25 at Memphis
Nov. 1 UAB
Nov. 8 at UCF
Nov. 15 East Carolina
Nov. 29 at SMU

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 7-6

Sept. 1 UT Martin W 35-13
Sept. 8 at Tennessee L 39-19
Sept. 15 at E Carolina W 28-21
Sept. 22 at Boise State L 38-16
Oct. 3
Rice L 31-29
Oct. 13 SMU W 28-7
Oct. 21 at Marshall W 33-24
Oct. 28 UCF L 34-17
Nov. 3 at UAB W 37-7
Nov. 10 Memphis L 29-25
Nov. 17 at UTEP W 56-30
Nov. 24 Arkansas St W 16-10
PapaJohns.com Bowl
Dec. 22 Cincinnati L 31-21

Few schools in the nation will be undergoing a bigger philosophical overhaul than Southern Miss, which has replaced the tortoise, Jeff Bower, with the hare, Larry Fedora. 

For 17 seasons, Bower was a pillar of consistency in Hattiesburg, but Fedora brings a new energy and a 21st century offensive attack that’s already caught the eye of top national recruits, such as WR DeAndre Brown, who spurned most of the SEC to play for the Eagles.  Even more than his physical ability, Brown’s unexpected decision was tangible proof that Southern Miss is about to enter a new era with higher expectations and a more fan-friendly attack.

For the first time in years, there’s a feeling of rebirth surrounding the Southern Miss program.  How long that lasts will depend on the play of the untested quarterbacks, who hold the key to the Golden Eagles’ short-term success.  It’s too much to expect any of the passers to be Zac Robinson, Fedora’s last student at Oklahoma State, right out of the gate, so USM will likely be targeting something beneath the Liberty Bowl this December.                                      

What to watch for on offense: With new head coach Larry Fedora comes a fancy no-huddle offense that aims to spread the field out and attack without provocation.  In other words, the new system will bear little resemblance to the one Jeff Bower employed for almost two decades.  Although Fedora needs more parts to make the engine purr, he’s getting there, attracting players, like blue-chip receivers DeAndre Brown and Freddie Parham, who never would have considered Hattiesburg before he arrived.  While nothing has been made official, second-year freshman Austin Davis showed enough in the spring to inch ahead of Martevious Young in the battle at quarterback.  Just because Southern Miss will air it out a little more than usual doesn’t mean that balance goes out the window.  Don’t forget that Fedora’s Oklahoma State offense averaged exactly 243.15 yards a game on the ground and through the air in 2007. 

What to watch for on defense: You can call the Southern Miss D the Nasty Bunch, but the moniker hasn’t really fit for a few years. New coordinator Todd Bradford hopes to change that by installing an aggressive, in-your-face defense aimed at making the quarterback uncomfortable.  While it sounds good in theory, it won’t be easy to deliver when the front four will be starting four new players. If they can’t get penetration, expect plenty of blitzes from an undersized and athletic back seven. Hey, at least the Golden Eagles can count on LB Gerald McRath, a man among boys and a candidate to leave a year early for the NFL Draft.  

The team will be far better if… the passing game performs up to Fedora’s expectations.  What would you get if you combined a slick, quick-strike passing attack with the running of Damion Fletcher? The program’s most potent offense since Brett Favre was a sophomore two decades ago. The Eagles need more balance and to give opposing defenses a reason not to stack the run, something that happened infrequently under Bower. 

The Schedule: Fedora's first year is made easier with schedule that should keep his Golden Eagles in the hunt for the East title until the end. The only issue is an early November road trip to UCF, but everything else works out nicely with East Carolina coming to Hattiesburg. The interesting Boise State showdown is a home game, and Sun Belt breathers against UL Lafayette and at Arkansas State will pad the record, but it's not all fluffy and happy with a early trip to Auburn that could put the team and the season on the map.

Best offensive player: RB Damion Fletcher.  Hard-working and ultra-productive, Fletcher has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.  With the field spread out and the running lanes wider than ever, another season beyond the century mark is in his future.  After taking a backseat to 2,000-yard rushers Kevin Smith and Matt Forte, Fletcher is set to become Conference USA’s premier running back.                            

Best defensive player: LB Gerald McRath.  The best linebacker you’ve never seen play, McRath is eyeing back-to-back Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year awards.  More than just a compiler of stats, he’s a disruptive, sideline-to-sideline force capable of blowing up offensive gameplans.  McRath's presence will once again be felt on a defense that would be lost without his sure-tackling playmaking ability.   

Key players to a successful season: The defensive line.  Four senior starters exhausted their eligibility, leaving the Golden Eagles with an untested quartet in their wake.  While the back seven has considerable upside and speed, it’s incumbent upon the rebuilt line to generate pressure without having to overuse blitz packages. The onus falls on ends Roshaad Byrd and David Boyce, and tackles Anthony Gray and Eric Phillips to shed their “weakest link” tag.                      

The season will be a success if
... the Eagles go bowling and the new offense shows signs of clicking. There are a few too many holes to be thinking league title, but the schedule is conducive to seven or eight wins and a second-tier postseason invite.  Beyond the standings, Southern Miss will be headed in the right direction if Fedora finds a quarterback to build around and the spread attack improves as the season progresses.                  

Key game
: Nov. 8 at UCF.  Until further notice, the path to the Eastern Division crown goes through Orlando.  The Eagles got doubled up last October, but Knight RB Kevin Smith is now in Detroit, and QB Stephen Reaves won’t be around to boost UCF’s turnover margin.  This would be the type of win that makes even the most ardent Bower supporters happy that Fedora is on the sidelines.      

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Rushing touchdowns: Southern Miss 30 - Opponents 15
- Penalties: Opponents 90 for 709 yards - Southern Miss 71 for 700 yards
- Red zone scores; Southern Miss 45 of 49 (92%) - Opponents 38 of 51 (75%)