December 19, 2016
It wasn’t pretty at times, and it seemed insanely long, but the University of Southern Mississippi has back-to-back winning football seasons. The Golden Eagles went winless in 2012, hitting rock bottom after winning 12 games the year before.
USM lost 23 consecutive games before finally getting a 62-27 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham to end the 2013 season. There was more progress in the 2014 season with three wins.
Finally, a breakthrough happened for USM in the 2015 season. The Golden Eagles had nine wins and went to a bowl game, but lost the final two games of the season.
In the offseason, Southern Miss lost head coach Todd Monken to the NFL. Monken left Hattiesburg to become the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. USM hired former assistant coach and then-head coach of Alcorn State University Jay Hopson.
There were high hopes entering this season, even with a new head coach, because of all the talent returning from the previous season.
Early on, it looked like USM would live up to those expectations with a 4-1 start to the season, including a win over the University of Kentucky out of the SEC. The University of Troy was the lone loss for the Golden Eagles in the first five games.
Southern Miss lost five of the next six games, suffering shocking defeats to the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of North Texas. All three of those teams finished with losing records after UTSA lost the New Mexico Bowl to the University of New Mexico.
The Golden Eagles needed to defeat Louisiana Tech University just to reach a bowl game, scoring a 39-24 win over the Bulldogs to play in the New Orleans Bowl.
In the bowl game, Southern Miss wide receiver http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/134845/allenzae-staggers-claims-more-usm-records-in-rl-carriers-new-orleans-bowl-win">Allenzae Staggers put on a show, making 11 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown to set a New Mexico Bowl record and school record for most receiving yards in a bowl game. USM quarterback http://www.espn.com/college-football/boxscore?gameId=400876041">Nick Mullens went 25 for 40 in passing, with 346 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. Running back http://www.espn.com/college-football/boxscore?gameId=400876041">Ito Smith rushed for 138 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns and one catch for six yards and a touchdown.
The trio of stars helped the Golden Eagles to a 28-21 win over the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but USM’s defense did its part with six sacks, three quarterback hurries, nine tackles for a loss and one interception. However, ULL scored two touchdowns off of Mullens’ turnovers as a result of short fields.
Most of the night, Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Anthony Jennings was http://www.espn.com/college-football/boxscore?gameId=400876041">under siege from the Golden Eagle defense. USM found ways to bottle up ULL’s star running back, http://www.espn.com/college-football/boxscore?gameId=400876041">Elijah McGuire, for parts of the game, even as he rushed for 99 yards on just 17 carries.
The New Orleans Bowl victory means more than just a winning season for the Golden Eagles. It also means http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/2572">USM is the only four-year college or university in Mississippi to finish with a winning record.
The http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/145/ole-miss-rebels">University of Mississippi finished the season at 5-7, and http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/344/mississippi-state-bulldogs">Mississippi State University won’t have a winning season after its bowl game with a 5-7 regular season record.
Meanwhile, http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/2296/jackson-state-tigers">Jackson State University finished 3-8, and http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/2400/mississippi-valley-state-delta-devils">Mississippi Valley State University finished 1-10. http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/2016/alcorn-state-braves">Alcorn State University ended the season at 5-6 after losing to Grambling State in the SWAC Championship Game.
The brutal football season wasn’t contained to just the SWAC and SEC schools in our state, though. http://www.gscsports.org/schedule.aspx?schedule=1020">Delta State University finished the season 4-6 until a violation from http://gscsports.org/news/2016/11/17/FB_1117160015.aspx">using an ineligible player changed its record to 2-8. http://www.gscsports.org/schedule.aspx?schedule=1021">Mississippi College finished the season at 3-7, as it continues to work its way into Division II. http://www.saa-sports.com/sports/fball/2016-17/schedule?teamId=h5p94qi3jr51h1jj">Millsaps College ended the season at 3-7, and http://www.ascsports.org/schedule.aspx?schedule=3509">Belhaven University went 2-8 on the season in its transition to Division III.
This season, http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/33123000/mississippi-football-teams-suffer-in-tough-weekend">during the weekend of Sept. 17, all 10 four-year schools in Mississippi lost on the same day for the first time since 1998.
Southern Miss can still puff its chest out as the best of a bad lot. USM should buy some billboard space with a slogan like, “The Only One Flying High,” “Our Golden State,” or something simple like, “Better Than All the Schools Up North.”
Even if there is no billboard, it’s a fact that USM is the only winner in our state.