Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it so that means getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you get a grasp of what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 College Football Preview.
# 63 – Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 7-5 SU; 5-6 ATS
Fargo's Take Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower is arguably one of the most underappreciated coaches in the country. He has led the Golden Eagles to 12 straight winning seasons and taken them to bow games in eight of the last nine years. He has been blessed with an abundance of talent throughout the years but 2006 could be one of his biggest challenges ever. He is faced with inexperience at both quarterback and running back while his defense no longer is the intimidating force it once was. There is a lot of potential talent across the field and those young players are going to have to play big roles for 2006 to be successful. The good news is that the C-USA East Division is the maker of the two so Southern Miss has the ability to improve upon its 5-3 conference record that it has generated in each of the last two seasons. The non-conference schedule is difficult once again but the Golden Eagles have a shot to make it to a bowl game for a fifth straight season.
Returning Starter on Off – 9 Replacing three-year starting quarterback Dustin Almond is the biggest challenge on offense and that job will be going to junior Jeremy Young who emerged from the spring as the number one guy. Stephen Reaves, a Michigan St. Louis. Transfer, is waiting in the wings if Young can not get the job done. The running game slipped to 95th in the country last season but that could improve in 2006 if Cody Hull starts where he left off at the end of last year. The Golden Eagles strength on offense is with the off line that returns four starters, including three seniors and one junior. Pass protection will be key as the top three receivers from last season are back and getting them the ball will play a big part in the success of the offense. Southern Miss has averaged at least 25.8 ppg in each of the last two seasons and that average will be tough to achieve with so many questions.
Returning Starter on Defense – 6 The defense used to have the heart and soul of the Golden Eagles football team but the last two years, that has not been the case. Last season, Southern Miss was 73rd in both total defense and rushing defense while ranking 75th in passing defense. Linebacker, never short of stars is recent years, looks to be the weakness this year with no starters returning. The defensive line brings back two starters and has the potential to be extremely solid if USC transfer Ryan Watson can dominate at nose tackle. The passing defense has allowed more yards per game in each of the last four seasons but there is potential to reverse that trend despite losing its top cover cornerback. The defense had 34 takeaways last season, the sixth most in the country so trying to replicate that with a very young squad will be extremely difficult.
Schedule The Golden Eagles always play a tough non-conference schedule and this season is no different. The one easy contest is against SE Louisiana but the other three games will be tough challenges. Southern Miss starts the season at Florida and then following the game against the Lions, it hosts NC State before getting C-USA action underway. Back-to-back road games at Central Florida and Tulsa and then a home game against Houston are the first three contests in conference play. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles do not catch a break as they must travel to Virginia Tech right after that for their final non-conference game. The second half of the schedule is a cakewalk compared to the first half as the remaining games against East Carolina, Memphis, Tulane, UAB and Marshall are all winnable and likely do need to be won for a chance at the postseason.
You can bet on … Southern Miss has had success in rebuilding years in the past so another successful season is not out of the question. The Golden Eagles had only nine returning starters last season and were able to put together a winning season and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl for a second straight season. Replacing the important starters from last year will be more difficult however. Southern Miss came into last season with a 16-8 ATS run but finished below .500 against the number for the first time since 2002. Part of the problem was not winning the close games as four of its five losses were by single digits including three Defeats by four points or less. Those are the games that need to be won this season and will reasonably mean a profitable season once again if it can do just that. The Golden Eagles are 6-2 ATS as underdogs over the last two years.