AR: Is Jeff Monken going to be the guy that leads the once proud USM back to prominence? If not, who should be?
PM: I think Monken is a good coach, but he stepped into a pretty difficult situation. The 2012 season under Ellis Johnson was an absolute disaster and it was pretty much a lost year of developing talent, strength, conditioning, etc. Monken's playcalling can be a bit frustrating at times but I think he can turn it around (it will take some time) and most of the Southern Miss fanbase is behind him.
AR: USM has doubled the win total from last year- signs of improvement or are they just playing bad teams?
PM: Southern Miss' two wins were over weak teams (a SWAC team and a transitional FBS team that just lost to Liberty) but USM has been fairly competitive in most of its' games. Even against Alabama, it was only a 2 TD game at halftime. The Rice game was close until the 4th quarter. The MTSU game was very winnable but USM made several mistakes throughout the game and lost by 6. The team is being competitive but they can't quite get across the finish line just yet.
AR: What's been the biggest bright spots for the Golden Eagles? Weak spots?
PM: I think the biggest bright spot so far for Southern Miss has been the passing game. Sophomore QB Nick Mullens has made some mistakes but overall he's been pretty solid. He hasn't had a ton of help from his receivers either. He was finally able to get a little help from his o-line against MTSU and he threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns. Mullens did throw the ball 55 times in that game, which may have helped his yards total a little. It's still a step in the right direction, though. As for weak spots, the run defense and offensive line (which has looked a little better in CUSA play) are probably the main concerns for Southern Miss at this point. The run defense has given up 246 yards a game (#120 in FBS) and has been gashed by opposing offenses all year. However, all of USM's FBS opponents are top 50 in FBS rushing offense so that makes the statistic seem a little better when you factor that in. It's definitely something that needs work, though.
AR: UNT routed USM last year... what's changed for USM this year?
PM: I think what has changed for Southern Miss in 2014 is that the team is a little more experienced and they've learned how to win a few games. Last year, USM QB Nick Mullens made his first career start against UNT and did not do great, but that's to be expected when you're making your first start against a 2013 UNT team that had a pretty strong defense. Mullens has improved since that game and now has a year of experience at the starting QB position. Also, this team has a little more confidence than the 2013 squad. USM had lost 18 games in a row coming into the North Texas game and a good number of players on the team had never won a game as a Golden Eagle. While Southern Miss hasn't been excellent since that game, they do have three wins since then and the players have somewhat of an idea on how to win football games at the college level
AR: Southern Miss was once Mississippi's top football team. Obviously this year the tide has turned, but, how long will it take for USM to be back to 8/9/10 win seasons?
PM: I think 2016 will be Southern Miss' year to get back in contention for a conference title. By that time, all the young players currently starting and playing significant time will be juniors and seniors and will hopefully have progressed in ability and experience. As of right now, Southern Miss is far inferior (obviously) to Ole Miss and Mississippi State on the football field. However, less than 3 years ago, Ole Miss went 2-10 and Mississippi State was struggling to get to a .500 record and bowl eligibility. The revenue gap between the 'power 5' and 'group of 5' is widening, so it'll be interesting to see if Southern Miss can ever get back to where they had a legitimate claim of being Mississippi's best college football team.