By: Steven Lassan | 5/7/12, 12:41 PM EDT
Order Your CFB
You can read the entire South Alabama preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#123 South Alabama
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Joey Jones, 23-4 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Matthews | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bill Clark
To relieve some pressure for a young offensive line, coach Joey Jones hired former Southern Miss assistant Robert Matthews to run the offense after firing Greg Gregory. The Jaguars, who return four offensive starters, switched in the spring from a power-running attack to the spread.
Sophomore quarterback C.J. Bennett struggled last season, averaging 164 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Redshirt freshman Trey Fetner has a chance to play in the fall due to his dual-threat abilities.
Three starters are gone on the line, but senior center Trey Clark and sophomore right guard Melvin Meggs provide some stability. Clark and Meggs started all 10 games last season.
Last season’s top three rushers return. Sophomore Kendall Houston ran for a team-high 558 yards and eight scores but missed spring drills due to injury. Sophomore Demetre Baker, who led the team with nine touchdown runs and was second with 491 rushing yards, is the starter going into the fall. However, both Baker and Houston will get plenty of carries.
The top receiver last season was junior Bryant Lavender, who caught 28 passes for 370 yards. Keep an eye on sophomore receiver T.J. Glover, a converted running back who was academically ineligible last year. Glover had a team-high 994 all-purpose yards in 2010.
The Jaguars’ multiple 3-4 scheme has nine returning starters, and versatility will be needed with many Sun Belt teams using the spread.
The defensive line is experienced with two seniors and six juniors expected to be in the rotation, but the pass rush must improve after USA recorded only 15 sacks in 2011. Junior defensive end Romelle Jones led the team last season with seven tackles for a loss.
Three starting linebackers in the 3-4 also return. Senior Jake Johnson is a proven playmaker who recorded a team-high 83 tackles a season ago. He will be flanked by Clifton Crews and Enrique Williams, a pair of juniors.
There are two new starting cornerbacks — likely Qudarius Ford and Darrius Morrow — but seniors Charles Harris and B.J. Scott are returning starters at safety. Harris, second on the team last year with 81 tackles, will start at strong safety. Scott gets the nod at free safety after recording 48 tackles in seven games.
Outstanding placekicker Jordan Means, who converted 13-of-15 last season, has exhausted his eligibility, opening the door for junior Michel Chapuseaux. Junior punter Scott Garber was solid a season ago, averaging 41.7 yards on 38 punts with 10 placed inside the 20-yard line. Glover is the likely returner after averaging 30.3 yards per kickoff return and 13.7 yards on punts in 2010.
After going undefeated in its first two seasons of football, South Alabama went 6–4 last year against a more difficult schedule that included its first games against FBS opponents (losses at NC State and Kent State). South Alabama won’t be eligible for the Sun Belt championship or the postseason until 2013, but the Jaguars will play a full league schedule. They open the season Aug. 30 against recent start-up program Texas-San Antonio, coached by former Miami (Fla.) boss Larry Coker.
Jones has built a solid foundation since being hired in February 2008. The Jaguars have a veteran team, with 47 returning lettermen and 13 returning starters, but their first season against a full Sun Belt schedule will be tough. A last-place finish is likely.