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Tough road for Southern Miss

MU football
Jul. 20, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

Editor's note: This is the eighth part of a 12-week series looking at the opponents for the 2013 Marshall Thundering Herd football team.

HUNTINGTON -- Two years ago, Southern Miss football was in paradise.

Literally.

In 2011, the Golden Eagles closed a 12-2 season with a 24-17 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl to cap one of the team's most successful seasons in history.

Nearly 20 months later, that still serves as the team's last victory.

The once-proud, tradition-rich Southern Miss football program has been left searching for itself again after an 0-12 campaign in 2012 under first -- and only -- year coach Ellis Johnson.

It just wasn't a really bad season.

It was a program-changing bad season.

Southern Miss had finished with a winning record in 18 straight seasons -- since nearly every player on the roster was born.

Now, new head coach Todd Monken inherits a program that he is not only going to have to physically fix what's broken -- and there is plenty -- but also mentally repair what was broken by last season's demise.

Things such as fan support, community morale and player confidence had never been an issue in Hattiesburg, Miss., during the previous two decades.

Now, Monken has to be more than just a football coach.

He has to be a savior, and he has to do it with limited resources and a treacherous schedule.

After a season-opening game against Texas State, which will be in its second season at the FBS level, the Golden Eagles take on a murderer's row of sorts with three straight roadies at Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State.

Ouch.

It doesn't get much better in Conference USA either.

Three of the four conference road games for Southern Miss include East Division favorite East Carolina (Oct. 19) and Marshall (Nov. 2). There is also a road game at Louisiana Tech (Nov. 9).

It doesn't exactly look like success is part of the 2013 picture.

However, another winless season shouldn't be part of the picture, either.

If there was one thing gained from 2012, it was experience -- the type of experience that doesn't just teach players, it makes them angry and puts that chip on their shoulder.

In looking at the returning talent, though, it's more about who is not returning than who is -- another bad sign for Southern Miss.

The offensive line graduated three important cogs in tackle Jason Weaver, guard Joe Duhon and center Austin Quattrochi. There will be lots of youth competing for those spots in fall camp, which can't ease the mind of any first-year coach.

The problem is compounded with the transfer of quarterbacks Anthony Alford and Arsenio Favor -- both of whom saw action against Marshall last season. Now, the quarterback spot is up for grabs with Cole Weeks ad Ricky Lloyd among the leaders.

At the running back spot, Kendrick Hardy and Jalen Richard offer experience from a year ago and sophomore Tyre Bracken ascended up Monken's depth chart in the spring.

Should Southern Miss find a quarterback, the team will have solid, dependable receivers on the outside. They aren't going to burn anyone with speed, but they will make the routine plays and advance the ball. Dominique Sullivan and Francisco Llanos lead the group, which also includes Justin Sims.

Defensively, the team has to replace do-it-all defensive end Jamie Collins, who was one of the nation's best players that no one heard of because of the team's ineptitude on both sides of the ball.

Monken has brought back David Duggan from North Carolina as defensive coordinator after Duggan spent a year in Chapel Hill -- a move that could turn around a defense that struggled mightily aside from Collins.

In addition to Collins on the outside, the defensive front will have to replace interior linemen Khalid Wilson and Joel Ross. Khyri Thornton and Rakeem Nunez-Roches return to help fill the gaps.

The linebacking corps returns intact with Alan Howze and Dylan Reda leading the way. However, the pressure was off of them last year with Collins' prowess as a rusher. With an unproven pass rush, the onus will be on the linebackers to continue their growth.

If there is a bright spot on the defensive side, it is cornerback Deron Wilson, who finished with 51 tackles, an interception and nine pass-breakups last season. Injuries allowed many safeties to get experience as well, so the depth in the secondary should not be an issue.

Corey Acosta returns to the placekicking duties while punter Matt Moseley fills the void left by Peter Boehme.

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