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Today at No. 114: Southern Miss Coach: Todd Monken (4-20, entering third season; 4-20 overall) 2014 record: 3-9, 1-7 in Conference USA; 6th place...

college football lock pickToday at No. 114: Southern Miss

Coach: Todd Monken (4-20, entering third season; 4-20 overall)

2014 record: 3-9, 1-7 in Conference USA; 6th place in West Division

Look back: Southern Miss was long the model of mid-level college football programs, making 18 consecutive bowl appearances from 1980 to 2011 under coaches Jeff Bower and Larry Fedora. After winning 12 games and winning the Conference USA title in 2011, Fedora took over as North Carolina’s head coach and the Golden Eagles began a steep nose dive. The team went winless in 2012, 1-11 in 2013 and 3-9 last season.

The Golden Eagles struggled to score and hold off opposing teams. Southern Miss ranked No. 114 in scoring offense (19.0 points per game) out of 125 teams recognized by the NCAA and ranked No. 109 in scoring defense (35.4 points allowed per game). Turnovers and penalties were big headaches for the team, with Southern Miss coughing up the ball a season-high five times during a 35-14 loss at UTEP.

Offensive starters returning: 10

Offensive starters lost: 1

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: WR Markese Triplett, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Dasman McCullum, LB Alan Howze, LB Justin Penn, FS Emmanuel Johnson, DB Jacorius Cotton, K Corey Acosta

Top returnees: QB Nick Mullens, RB Jalen Richard, WR Casey Martin, WR Michael Thomas, WR Marquise Richard, LT Rashod Hill, LG Brandon Farmer, C Cameron Tom, RG Devin Farrior, RT Norman Price, DE Michael Smith, LB Elijah Parker, LB C.J. Perry, CB Cornell Armstrong, FS Emmanuel Johnson, CB Kalan Reed

Strengths: Southern Miss returns 10 starters on offense, a remarkably high number for any team. Nick Mullens is battling TCU transfer Tyler Matthews for the starting quarterback job. Both players showed off strong arms and made big plays during the spring game,

While Southern Miss didn’t score often, Mullens did lead a steady passing attack that ranked No. 33 nationally last season (269.3 yards per game). The offense struggled the most when he was sidelined two games due to an injured right foot.

While the offense’s production left much to be desired, the experience and depth should help Southern Miss improve.

Weaknesses: The defense took the biggest hit during the offseason, losing defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches and defensive end Dasman McCullum. They served as strong forces up front against the run. Defensive backs Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson, who exited the program as well, delivered key energy for the defense and must be replaced.

Outlook: Southern Miss’ competitive drop after 18 bowl seasons has been startling. Coach Todd Monken has praised the team’s improved toughness and depth entering his third season, but the rebuilding on defensive side of the ball and ongoing quarterback battle may translate to a slow climb back to bowl eligibility.

2015 schedule

Sept. 5 Mississippi State

Sept. 12 Austin Peay

Sept. 19 at Texas State

Sept. 26 at Nebraska

Oct. 3 North Texas

Oct. 9 at Marshall

Oct. 17 Texas-San Antonio

Oct. 24 at Charlotte

Oct. 31 UTEP

Nov. 14 at Rice

Nov. 21 Old Dominion

Nov. 28 at Louisiana Tech

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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