Southern Miss improved a little in their 2014 campaign after winning three games, tripling their win total from 2012 and 2013 combined. Todd Monken will enter his third season as the Golden Eagles' head coach returning most of his key players from 2014 and may have the pieces to lead Southern Miss to their first bowl game in four years. So, what expectations are reasonable and unreasonable for the Southern Miss squad in 2015? Let's take at some factors that may give us a answer.
The offense showed some glimpses of promise in 2014 and with the Golden Eagles returning every nearly offensive playmaker (sorry, WR Markese Triplett) from the previous season, they should improve. QB Nick Mullens is returning for his junior season but is expected to be challenged for the job by TCU transfer Tyler Matthews. Matthews was highly recruited out of high school, committed to TCU but transferred to Southern Miss after his freshman season. The Eagles also return all eight players who finished with net positive yardage rushing and return nearly every receiver who caught a pass in 2014.
The offensive line situation will be interesting to watch with several JUCO and high school signees in the 2015 class playing on the offensive line. Overall, the talent on offense isn't elite, but Todd Monken will have the most to work with on this side of the ball since his tenure began at Southern Miss.
Southern Miss returns many starters on defense from the previous year, but they did lose a few key pieces from the 2014 squad. The most notable departure on defense, was Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Defensive back starters Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson have graduated.
There is talent that is returning however, which includes cornerbacks Kalan Reed and Picasso Nelson. Last year, Reed intercepted two passes and broke up nine. Nelson also picked off two passes and broke up seven. The Southern Miss defense has struggled in recent years largely due to a general lack of speed, but with another year of conditioning (along with a new strength coach), they may be able to close the gap with their opponents in 2015.
The full 2015 schedule for Southern Miss was recently released and while some games will be tough, six wins and bowl eligibility is possible. However, the Golden Eagles can squander any chance at a bowl game if they lose games they should easily win. This includes games against FCS foe Austin Peay and new FBS member Charlotte. On the other hand, non-conference wins against Mississippi State and Nebraska should not be expected. Winnable conference home games against UTEP, Old Dominion, North Texas and UTEP may be vital to USM's bowl hopes. Southern Miss should also have a fair shot at road wins against Texas State and Rice; and wins in those games could also boost bowl hopes.
The consensus in Hattiesburg is that the Southern Miss football team should win 6-7 games this year and go to a bowl. I feel like this is a pretty reasonable expectation and is an attainable goal for the Golden Eagles in the upcoming season. However, predicting 9-10 wins and a victory over Mississippi State and/or Nebraska may be unrealistic for this team. Regarding expectations for 2015, Southern Miss fans should be disappointed with 4 wins or less, happy and satisfied with 6-7 wins, and ecstatic with 8 wins or more.