FACTS & STATS: Site: M.M. Roberts Stadium (36,000) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: None. Home Record: Texas State 0-0, USM 0-0. Away Record: Texas State 0-0, USM 0-0. Neutral Record: Texas State 0-0, USM 0-0. Conference Record: Texas State 0-0, USM 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: Looking to earn their first win since the 2011 campaign, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles will play host to the Texas State Bobcats in a battle of non-BCS conference squads at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Just two years ago Texas State wasn't even an FBS program but last year the Bobcats made their debut in the Western Athletic Conference. The run wasn't surprising for a squad making the jump to the FBS level as the Bobcats went just 4-8. However they did earn an upset win over Houston. The stay in the WAC was short lived as they are now members of the Sun Belt.
In 2011 Southern Miss finished 12-2 and earned a win in the Hawaii Bowl over Nebraska. The 24-17 victory over the Cornhuskers was the last time the Golden Eagles posted a victory as they fell in all 12 contests a year ago. Ellis Johnson had taken over for Larry Fedora before the season began but he was fired after the dismal campaign. That has opened the door for former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken to take over.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
Even though there are seven starters returning on offense for the Bobcats, there isn't a lot of hope that they are set to improve on last year's production. The Bobcats scored 28.6 points per game and picked up 379.8 yards per game, relying primarily on a rushing attack, but wide receivers Andy Erickson and Isaiah Battle are the only returning starters at one of the skill positions.
Starting quarterback Shaun Rutherford graduated leaving the job to Tyler Arndt. Now in his senior season, Arndt completed just 39.3 percent of his pass attempts for 208 yards and was intercepted three times in limited duties as the backup last season.
Erickson (39 receptions, 482 yards, three TDs) is certainly the receiver the Bobcats would want coming back. Erickson led the team in just about every receiving category in 2012, including receptions (39) and yards (482). Battle caught 26 passes for 428 yards and showed skill as a deep threat. Brandon Smith (21 receptions, 226 yards) is also back.
Texas State ranked third in the WAC in rushing last season but Rutherford and departed running back Marcus Curry accounted for 1,282 yards. Robert Lowe, who had just 76 yards, is listed on top of the depth chart as the season gets underway.
On defense the Bobcats surrendered 33.5 points and 484.8 yards per game though they did force 26 turnovers. A major issue for the Bobcats was creating negative plays, with just 12 sacks on the year.
In hopes of bolstering the pass rush and defense in general the Bobcats brought in transfers D.J. Yendrey and Mike Orakpo. Yendrey was a three-year starter for TCU at defensive tackle and Orakpo, brother of Washington Redskins linebacker Brian, cut his teeth at Colorado State as a linebacker.
There are seven other players returning as starters that will fit in around the two transfer players. Senior cornerback Xavier McDaniels is the lead returning tackler (66) but he didn't provide a ton of big plays in coverage with just five passes defended. Fellow cornerback Craig Mager did though as he brought in four interceptions.
David Mayo had 41 tackles last season and will join Orakpo at linebacker with the hopes of improving his production.
Monken was one of the masterminds behind the Oklahoma State spread offense that has been scorching teams in the Big 12 for the last few seasons. He will be trying to instill the same type of system at Southern Miss, although the transition will be tough due to the personnel.
Only two starters return on offense in right guard Ed Preston and wide receiver Dominique Sullivan. Sullivan caught only 19 passes last season, but led the team with 331 yards and three touchdown receptions.
Poor quarterback play was Southern Miss' downfall last season. Four different signal callers made at least 40 pass attempts. According to the most recent depth chart, Cole Weeks, who completed 8-of-19 pass attempts last season, is slated to begin the season as the starter for Monken.
There is depth at running back which may force Monken to utilize the run a bit more than he is used to. Kendrick Hardy is a senior and is currently the No. 1 option on the depth chart. Hardy rushed for just 153 yards last season but Jalen Richard (426 yards) and Tyre Bracken (60) also saw time last year as well.
Southern Miss really had issues in stopping teams on the ground last season as the Golden Eagles let up 207.5 yards per game on the ground. That mark put them at 108th in the country. The Golden Eagles were just two spots better than that in total defense (426.5 ypg).
There are seven starters back, which should help with any improvements the Golden Eagles hope to make. Also back is former defensive assistant David Duggan, who takes over at coordinator.
Jamie Collins was a force on the defensive line but his production will need to be filled. Michael Smith, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Khyri Thornton were all starters last season but the trio combined for just three sacks.
Getting better play on the line will be important, but the linebackers also need to step up. Alan Howze (66 tackle, 2.5 sacks) is the top returning tackler as well as last year's leader in sacks. He leads a trio of returning starters, while the secondary is largely unproven.
Though Southern Miss didn't register a single win last season, the Golden Eagles were competitive in a number of contests. With all the turnover at Texas State and the expected offensive improvement under Monken, the Golden Eagles should end the skein and get in the win column right out of the gate.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 28, Texas State 20
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