Can the Golden Eagles finally make a run at a division crown?
By: Athlon Sports | 6/5/11, 5:18 PM EDT
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#55 Southern Miss
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora, 22-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Blake Anderson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dan Disch
Quarterback Austin Davis returns for his fourth season as a starter and gives the Golden Eagles an opportunity to make a run for the East Division crown. While not as prolific a passer as Houston’s Case Keenum, Davis has proven to be a model of consistency and productivity for the Golden Eagles. He understands the offense and is on the verge of breaking the remaining school passing records he doesn’t hold. His ability to avoid turnovers helped extend USM’s remarkable postseason run. The Golden Eagles have appeared in nine straight bowl games, a streak no C-USA team can match.
Joining Davis in the backfield will be sophomore Kendrick Hardy, who emerged from the pack last season and led the Golden Eagles in rushing. Junior Desmond Johnson, who had a solid spring, has been highly regarded since Day 1 and rushed for 611 yards and eight TDs last year.
Kelvin Bolden and Quentin Pierce should become more involved in the passing game this season. Bolden, who led the receivers with six touchdown catches and 722 passing yards, has a knack for making receptions in key situations. Pierce caught 38 passes last season and also completed two passes, both for touchdowns.
Left tackle Lamar Holmes, left guard Joe Duhon and right tackle Thomas Edenfield return for a unit that helped Southern Miss average 200.9 yards rushing.
Under coach Larry Fedora, the Golden Eagles have failed to enjoy the success they covet — a Conference USA title — because of their defensive shortcomings. Southern Miss ranked 99th nationally in pass defense and 47th in total defense.To address the deficiency, Fedora hired a new defensive coordinator, Dan Disch, who ditched the 4-3 base look and installed a 4-2-5 that Golden Eagles fans hope will revive the program’s reputation for stout defense.
End Cordarro Law, who led the team with six sacks a year ago, is an all-conference candidate who should flourish in the new scheme. Tackle Khyri Thornton is a future all-conference player who dropped nearly 45 pounds during the offseason and will team inside with veteran Terrance Pope.
Senior linebacker Korey Williams is expected to be as productive as he was a year ago when he had a team-leading 14.5 tackles for a loss. Ronnie Thornton, also a senior, has had 175 tackles the past two seasons.
Jacorius Cotton moves into the starting free safety position with an enthusiasm for punishing hits. Cornerback Deron Wilson started last year as a freshman and easily led the team with 12 pass deflections.
Southern Miss will have one of the strongest kicking games in the conference with the return of Lou Groza finalist Danny Hrapmann and punter Peter Boehme. Hrapmann was 26-of-31 last year and led C-USA in scoring, while Boehme averaged 39.3 yards per punt and has had 45 of 104 punts downed inside the 20 the past two years. Reserve tailback Tracy Lampley is proficient at returning kickoffs and punts.
The Golden Eagles consistently win and go to bowl games, but they haven’t won a division crown since the league split into divisions in 2005. While they should extend their bowl streak this year, Fedora wants his first C-USA championship. If Disch’s scheme is a success, expect Southern Miss to challenge defending champion UCF for the East Division title.