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Southern Mississippi did a lot of things right last year and that led to a 9-5 overall record as well as a goodbye to its head coach and offensive coordinator. The Golden Eagles will look a bit different this season with Jay Hopson leading the way, formerly Alcorn State head coach at the FCS level. Shannon Dawson will lead the offense coming over from Kentucky after getting dropped there.
Reaching last year's levels will be close to impossible for the Golden Eagles. They averaged almost 40 points per game and were one of the best teams in the nation running and passing. That said, they shouldn't take a major step back with quarterback Nick Mullens (63.5% completion, 38 TDs, 12 INTs) still around. Mullens loses his top receivers, but should be just fine with DJ Thompson (55 receptions, 779 yards, 6 TDs) and Korey Robertson among others. Expect this team to pass plenty as the new coordinator doesn't have a much different scheme.
The running game may also take a step back with two new offensive linemen moving into starting positions at the tackle spots. However, the interior is still there and Ito Smith (1,128 yards, 10 TDs) should find numerous holes as the lead back. Finding his backup will be important though, as the Eagles had two 1,000-yard rushers in 2015.
The defensive side was the bigger question for Southern Miss last year, although they were still one of the best units in the conference. But that's not saying a lot, as they gave up 45 and 44 points in their final two losses of the season. Beating up on the C-USA wasn't all that impressive.
That said, the defense was much better than previous versions and at the least, coordinator David Duggan is still there to keep that going. They have six returning starters with talent back at every level.
End Dylan Bradley should wreck havoc on the outside once again with sophomore Darian Yancey. They lost their middle linebacker, but have experience with D'Nerius Antoine on the outside, who was actually a safety last season. Cornell Armstrong and Picasso Nelson have both been starters in the secondary since coming onto campus.
Once again, Southern Miss has a couple tough non-conference games (at UK, LSU) that they probably won't be able to win, but should still come into Conference USA play with two wins. Their most difficult conference games all come at home with Marshall and Louisiana Tech at the top of that list. Road games at UTEP and ODU won't be easy, but neither one is impossible. Remember, the Golden Eagles destroyed La. Tech on the road last year.
Another C-USA title game is in the cards for this team and 10 wins will once again be a possibility with the help of Mullens at quarterback. Their over/under at 5Dimes was 8 wins in July with the over coming in at -185. If this team doesn't reach nine wins again, it'd be considered a disappointment for Hopson in his first season, just because they return so much talent.
2016 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles Football Schedule
Sept. 3 at Kentucky
Sept. 10 vs. Savannah State
Sept. 17 vs. Troy
Sept. 24 at UTEP
Oct. 1 vs. Rice
Oct. 8 at UTSA
Oct. 15 at LSU
Oct. 29 vs. Marshall
Nov. 5 vs. Charlotte
Nov. 12 at Old Dominion
Nov. 19 at North Texas
Nov. 25 vs. Louisiana Tech
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