Best guess at a record when the Eagles face Nebraska:
New Southern Mississippi head coach Todd Monken will get something Ellis Johnson didn’t get in his one year at the helm in 2012 – an imminently winnable game. The Golden Eagles should beat Texas State in the season opener. They better, actually, because the next three games are road trips to Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State. Southern Miss will likely be 1-0 headed to Lincoln and probably 1-3 by the time conference play opens.
The one player you simply must know:
This spot was supposed to be reserved for quarterback Anthony Alford, the four-star prospect who played as a true freshman against Nebraska last year, but Alford transferred to Ole Miss following the Eagles’ winless 2012 campaign. In Alford’s absence, the biggest talent on the 2013 team might be defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. NFLDraftScout.com has him as one of the ten best senior defensive tackles in the country. Thornton didn’t show up on the stat sheet against Nebraska last year but for the season he finished second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss behind only Jamie Collins, the New England Patriots’ second round pick in the 2013 draft.
How’s the match-up for Nebraska?:
Monken is an up-tempo spread disciple who’s had two separate stints at Oklahoma State with stops at LSU (2005-06) and in the NFL (Jacksonville, 2007-10) in between. He was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator the past two years and he’ll probably get the Eagles’ offense up and running in Hattiesburg eventually. It might not quite be there by game two in 2013, however. Southern Miss only has four starters back from last year’s offense, but they did get a boost this spring when former Cal quarterback Allan Bridgford transferred in. Passing to beat Nebraska hasn’t typically been a winning strategy but that’s likely what the Eagles will try to do in week two.
Defensively, the outlook is better for Southern Miss. The Eagles return nine starters off a defense that was a little better than the stats showed in 2012. The pieces are in place for Southern Miss to return to the defensive level that won it the Conference USA crown in 2011, but you can’t ignore the fact that Nebraska put up 632 yards on these guys last year.
No team has ever gone from 12 wins to zero wins in one season but Southern Miss did it last year. That’s why Ellis Johnson is a defensive coordinator once again – this time at Auburn, his eighth DC gig in a 30-plus year career – and Todd Monken is a head coach for the first time. The Eagles will be better this season and, with a few breaks, could flirt with bowl eligibility. This is probably the second-best team Nebraska will face in non-conference play and if Monken can get the passing game up and running there’s a chance the Huskers will simply have to outshoot Southern Miss in this one considering Nebraska’s inexperience defensively.
Nebraska 38 Southern Miss 21.