NEW ... 2010 Southern Miss Preview
Southern Miss QB Austin Davis
Southern Miss QB Austin Davis
Posted Jul 29, 2010 2010 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2010

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Larry Fedora
3rd year: 14-12
Returning Lettermen
Off. 15, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Southern Miss Players
1. LB Korey Williams, Jr.
2. WR DeAndre Brown, Jr.
3. DE Cordarro Law, Jr.
4. QB Austin Davis, Jr.
5. NT Anthony Gray, Sr.
6. LB Ronnie Thornton, Jr.
7. LB Martez Smith, Sr.
8. CB C.J. Bailey, Sr.
9. S Justin Wilson, Sr.
10. RB/PR/KR Tracy Lampley, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 2 at South Carolina
Sept. 11 Prairie View A&M
Sept. 17 Kansas
Sept. 25 at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 2 Marshall
Oct. 9 East Carolina
Oct. 16 at Memphis
Oct. 30 UAB
Nov. 6 at Tulane
Nov. 13 at UCF
Nov. 20 Houston
Nov. 26 at Tulsa

Are we there yet?

After two seasons under head coach Larry Fedora and back-to-back 7-6 campaigns, Southern Miss is hoping to take the next step and contend for a Conference USA championship. Isn't that why popular Jeff Bower got the boot a couple of years back? The Golden Eagles had grown tired of falling short in the league pecking order and settling for some anonymous December bowl game against the likes of Ohio, Arkansas State, and North Texas. They wanted more than just neutral results, which is what led to a somewhat controversial change at the top. More than two years of installing new systems and attracting new personnel has the program believing it's time to hit a new level and make the change at the top look like a no-brainer.

On defense, the Golden Eagles are poised to live up to its old moniker, the Nasty Bunch. They return nine starters and enough depth to keep everyone fresh. There's ample star power in the front seven, with LB Korey Williams, NT Anthony Gray, and DE Cordarro Law, to offset any turnover in the secondary. The D will be fine. The offense, Fedora's pride and joy, however, could have some tinkering to do in the early going. No, the graduation of all-time leading rusher Damion Fletcher won't grind the system to a halt, but losing four starting offensive linemen might. As exciting as it is to have QB Austin Davis and WR DeAndre Brown at full strength, their enormous potential will be mitigated if the blockers can't block. More than anyone else, they hold the key to the 2010 team's ultimate fate.

Southern Miss is heading in the right direction under Fedora, but another seven-win season will come off as a clear regression. At a program that has as much all-around talent as anyone in Conference USA, it's time to put this vehicle into overdrive and zoom on up to the school's first outright league title in seven years.

What to watch for on offense: The rebuilt offensive line. Hands down, this is the most important area of the depth chart this summer. The Golden Eagles lose four starters, leaving only C Cameron Zipp from last year's regular lineup. Even worse, not many backups return to Hattiesburg, forcing junior college transfers and defensive imports into positions of prominence. While the first steps toward rebuilding took place in the spring, this is an on-going process that might be fluid right through the fall. Southern Miss has a lot of skill position talent, but you might not know it if the front wall is consistently getting pushed back into the backfield.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers to combine for more than 400 tackles this season. Among the non-BCS programs, there may not be a better collection of linebackers than the one in Hattiesburg. Led by All-American candidate Korey Williams, last year's top three tacklers return to roam the field and make their presence felt in opposing backfields and secondaries. Ronnie Thornton and Martez Smith are playmakers, and Jamie Collins and Hendrick Leverette are solid off the bench, giving the Eagles a virtual fortress on the second line of defense for other teams to try and navigate.

The team will be far better if… the pass defense shows up against better opponents. It didn't happen last year, which begins to tell the story why the Golden Eagles hovered around the .500 mark in 2009. In their six losses, opposing quarterbacks threw 13 touchdown passes and were picked off just three times. Now, this offense is equipped to partake in shootouts, but should it have to so often? Southern Miss has enough potential stars on the front seven to buffer the secondary, provided it stops yielding so many connections in the red zone.

The Schedule: The Golden Eagles might still believe they'd like to play anyone, any place, and at any time, starting out at South Carolina and hosting Kansas while going to Louisiana Tech, but there's also a nice layup against Prairie View A&M. They get an awful break facing both Houston and Tulsa from the West, but those come at the end of the season after all the East games are out of the way. Unfortunately, facing UCF on the road won't help as four of the final six games are away from Roberts Stadium.

Best offensive player: Junior WR DeAndre Brown. Now that he's sufficiently cleared his biggest hurdle, a broken leg in the 2008 bowl game, Brown is back to being one of the nation's standout wide receivers. A 6-6, 231-pounder, with an enormous catch radius and long stride, he made it back in time for Week 2 and went on to catch 47 passes for 785 yards and nine touchdowns. It would qualify as a major upset if he doesn't declare for early entry into the 2011 NFL Draft.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Korey Williams. Like Brown on offense, Williams is basically a next-level player performing against mostly marginal Conference USA talent. The results are predictable. He was a wrecking ball in his first full season on the job, making 121 stops, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. His physical ability is obvious to anyone watching his film. What's not so clear to the naked eye is his passion to be the best and innate feel for diagnosing plays. Put it all together in a 6-2, 233-pound package, and you've got a dynamite all-around defender.

Key players to a successful season: The new offensive tackles. If Southern Miss is going to reach its goals in 2010, it'll need to rebuild the line in a hurry. And if that group is to meet the challenge, tackles Darius Barnes, Jason Weaver, Lamar Holmes, and Thomas Edenfield will have to play beyond their pay scale. Together they have almost no experience at this level, a major concern for a program determined to keep QB Austin Davis off his back as much as possible.

The season will be a success if ... Southern Miss wins the East Division. Back-to-back champion East Carolina is going to be down, like the division as a whole, which is one more reason that this is the year for the Eagles to raise the bar. Save for Houston, no one will begin the season with higher expectations or a deeper roster, so anything less than a spot in the Conference USA title game will not be viewed favorably.

Key game: Nov. 13 at UCF. The clincher in the East? It sure could be. The Eagles and Knights are arguably the best teams on this side of Conference USA, which will heap extra meaning on the game in Orlando. The two are also among the league's best defenses, pitting UCF DE Bruce Miller vs. Southern Miss LB Korey Williams in a possible showdown for league Defensive Player of the Year.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Southern Miss 181.4 – Opponents 130.8
- Punt return average: Southern Miss 11.5 – Opponents 3.8
- Sacks: Southern Miss 34 - Opponents 16

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