The question was posed recently whether the success that Southern Miss has seen in 2015 is truly sustainable or not. Much of the speculation comes down to the number of transfers (FBS and JUCO) that have been important to this season and whether that philosophy can be a long term solution.
When looking at Southern Miss and their possible future success, four things stand out and make me believe they are building a top tier program: finding the right FBS transfers, saving young players for the future, a balance in recruiting, and an entire program buying in to the coaching staff.
Yes, the talent upgrade at many positions due to transfers has been an enormous reason for the change in fortunes this fall. Players like Andrew Bolton, Anthony Swain, and Casey Martin have been able to add a dimension to the Golden Eagles program that was lacking significantly in previous seasons.
It was a huge benefit for Nick Mullens and the Southern Miss offense to have Houston transfer Casey Martin on the 2014 squad. He was able to find his role heading into his senior season. Bolton and Swain settled in and have been very good for an ever improving front seven. The trio, along with Justice Hayes and Quincy Russell, will be missed in the future.
With players like kicker Stephen Brauchle back in 2016, FBS transfers will play a role for the program heading forward. There is no doubt Southern Miss will be part of the transfer landscape after this season completes, but taking the right transfers at the right time is essential.
Simply, long term success at the college football level comes down to a constant stream of youth. The Southern Miss roster, as it currently stands, lists 26 sophomores and 34 freshmen (true and redshirt) on the team. Many of these young players are being slowly nurtured in the program and being prepared to contribute either after a redshirt season or after a couple years of being a backup.
In the coaching philosophy of Monken and company, it is expected for players to grow into their roles on the team by the time they hit their redshirt sophomore season. 59 of the current players on the Southern Miss roster were redshirted at some point in their careers.
The commitment to youth is evident with only position on Southern Miss' squad that does not have an underclassman in the two-deep being weakside linebacker. Otherwise, there is a player at every position ready to step up and take over the starting role in 2015.
The secret to recruiting for Southern Miss has been hitting the recruiting trail very hard on the JUCO level. While building up the overall talent level through the high school ranks, the Golden Eagles coaching staff has been bringing in multiple JUCO players that are ready to step in immediately.
The JUCO ranks is Southern Miss has been getting the majority of their talent under Monken. Outgoing seniors Mike Thomas, Norman Price, and Brian Anderson are JUCO transfers that have been able to shine while giving the coaching staff an opportunity to groom potential replacements.
The 2015 recruiting class included 11 JUCO players added to the team. Of those 11, at least seven have come in and earned playing time immediately.
Nowhere better has the JUCO philosophy been more evident than at the tight end position. A position that was not very strong in previous years was given a significant talent upgrade with the signing of Taylor Marini and Ricky Parks. The story with Parks is a bit more complicated as he was originally brought in to help on the defensive line, but moved back to his original college position of tight end where he has thrived.
The Golden Eagles have found the perfect balance of JUCO transfers and high school recruits. Of the 24 brought in this past spring, 11 were JUCO and 13 were high school recruits. Three true freshmen were able to earn spots on the depth chart, while the other ten high school signees are saved for the future.
Buying Into The Coaching Staff:
It is easy for a coach to tell a group of players that they need to come together as one group, it is much harder to actually make that happen. Every year, talented teams fall apart due to team infighting, player and coaching disagreements, and players out for themselves among other reasons.
Only when a team is able to fully buy into what the coaching staff is selling can success actually happen. This team, and the players moving forward, believe in the coaching staff and what they are doing.
Where you could have dissension with two running backs fighting for carries, you instead have Jalen Richard and Ito Smith ready whenever their number is called to carry the ball. There is no statement about the lack of carries or not enough playing time. It is a group of players out to win, not caring who is the hero as long as they get the win.
While it is impossible to predict the success of a program moving forward, everything about the 2015 season points towards Southern Miss being back at the top for the foreseeable future.