Every year teams all over the country watch as the old leave and the new take over, whether it be from incoming high school recruits, JUCO transfers, or FBS to FBS transfers. For the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, two FBS to FBS transfers have a chance to make a huge impact on the program in the upcoming season.
Justice Hayes, a transfer from Michigan, is a running back that is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility left. Tyler Matthews, a transfer from TCU, joined the Southern Miss program in 2014 and had to sit out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He is now eligible to play for the Golden Eagles and will be fighting for a starting spot heading into the fall.
Justice Hayes, Grand Blanc, Michigan (5-10, 194), Running Back: Hayes, a 2011 U.S. Army All-American, was one of the most sought out all-purpose backs in the nation following a stellar high school career. 247 Sports rated Hayes as a 4-star recruit and the #115 player nationally, #6 all-purpose back, and #3 player in the state of Michigan. Rivals also rated Hates as a 4-star as well as the nation's #85 recruit, #3 APB, and #4 player in the state of Michigan. Hayes picked the University of Michigan where he redshirted his freshman year before getting playing time in his next three seasons. During those three years, Hayes carried the ball 68 times for 302 yards and 1 touchdown in addition to 17 catches for 105 yards.
While Hayes was at Michigan, he transferred from a feature back to more of a third down back with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield a key part of his game. His size (5-10, 194) gives him the ability to disappear in the creases in both the rushing and passing games but the size will also keep him from being able to be "the man." With Ito Smith (536 yards, 2 touchdowns) and George Paynes (271 yards, 6 touchdowns) returning for 2015, Hayes will give the Golden Eagles a third head to the rushing attack and give the quarterback a great escape option in the passing game.
Expect Hayes to get between 10-15 touches a game overall but the passing game is where I see him making some plays and catching between 30-40 passes on the season.
Tyler Matthews, Wichita, Kansas (6-4, 215), Quarterback: Matthews, a 2012 U.S. Army All-American who threw for 6,541 yards in high school with 62 TD passes, chose the Big 12 and TCU after an excellent high school career. Matthews was highly rated with a 4-star tag from both Rivals and 247. Rivals rated Matthews as the #174 recruit in the 2012 class, the #6 pro-style passer, and #1 player in the state of Kansas while 247 rated him as the #321 player nationally, #13 pro-style quarterback, and #1 player in the state of Kansas. After a redshirt season and very little playing time as a redshirt freshman, Matthews saw the writing on the wall and left for Southern Miss.
Matthews has a year in the system after his transfer and will have two years of eligibility left with the Golden Eagles. The year of getting to learn the system will give Matthews a better shot at earning starting duties this fall. The Southern Miss starting quarterback job will come down to a battle between Matthews and two-year starter Nick Mullens. Matthews has a very lively arm and based on talent alone, should end up with the starting job over Mullens.
The biggest issue for Southern Miss is that both quarterbacks have two years of eligibility left and Mullens has two seasons of starting under his belt after taking the starting job midway through his freshman season. It is difficult for any head coach to pull the plug on a player after that many starts but the Golden Eagles must show an improvement in the win-loss category this season. Matthews seems to be the best fit at quarterback to make a push at a bowl berth and a bowl berth of any kind is desperately coveted by the Southern Miss fan base.
Expectations: Matthews could be the most important player for Southern Miss if he is able to wrestle the starting job from Mullens this fall. The former Horned Frog has the ability to gain significant yards with his arm strength and seems to be a perfect fit for the Southern Miss passing attack. My expectation is for Matthews to earn the starting job before the season opener and put up at least 2,700 yards passing.
Hayes is almost guaranteed to see some playing time in his one year for the Golden Eagles but does not have to be a starter to be effective. Hayes is at his best in the open field and should be a nice weapon for the passing game. He will take some carries away from Smith and Paynes but there is room for all three running backs to be productive and help this offense move of from the 97th ranked offense in 2014.