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Southern Mississippi: What is this year's must win game of 2016?

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Southern Miss is a heavy favorite to win CUSA West but which game ensures that Jay Hopson leads Southern Miss back to the Conference USA Championship Game in his debut season.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Every team has a "must-win game." Sometimes its a rivalry game, sometimes its a division foe or maybe even a non-conference opponent. No matter the case, every team has a game that they absolutely must win in order to accomplish their goals.

After pulling off one of the biggest turnaround seasons in school history and capturing CUSA West last year, Southern Miss is a heavy favorite to win CUSA West for the second straight season. So which game stands in the way? Here are three options that qualify as a must-win if Southern Miss is to win CUSA West for the second straight year.

Sept. 24 - At UTEP

The season opener against Kentucky gives Jay Hopson a great opportunity to prove that Southern Miss is in good hands. The conference opener against UTEP on the other hand gives every critic who wasn't a fan of the hire a chance to say Southern Miss won't be the same team as they were under Todd Monken.

UTEP is my sleeper pick to win CUSA West should the transition under Hopson not go smooth and a big reason why is the return of Aaron Jones. He's the best running back in CUSA if healthy. With the game taking place in what will be a raucous Sun Bowl crowd at night, Southern Miss should not take the trip to El Paso lightly.

Oct. 29 - vs Marshall

Southern Miss and Marshall are the most recognizable brands in CUSA and should CUSA ever decide to do permanent cross-over matchups this one would be high on the list.

This game could decide who gets to host the CUSA Championship Game and with the past four winners of CUSA having had home field advantage this could be an extremely important game down the line. Last year Marshall defeated Southern Miss 31-10 at home.

Nov. 25 - vs La Tech

Last year Southern Miss shocked everyone and defeated Louisiana Tech on the road to snatch the CUSA West division away from the Bulldogs. This year the roles are reversed as its Southern Miss everyone is touting to run away with the division.

The Rivalry in Dixie has been dominated by Southern Miss as they lead the all-time series 32-15. After last season's game decided CUSA West, this game could do so once again as many perceive these two as having the best teams in CUSA West.

Verdict

If Todd Monken were still the head coach Southern Miss would win CUSA West by a landslide. With Hopson running the show the Golden Eagles still can, but any early adversity will challenge that notion. The matchup against UTEP gets my vote as I think they are the second best team in CUSA West.

The Miners are hungry to make a statement under Sean Kugler and the timing of this game works in UTEP's favor. It's early in the season where Southern Miss still might be working out the kinks under Hopson, at night, in El Paso.

Every "viable" threat to Southern Miss in CUSA West comes to Hattiesburg. Defeat UTEP and the Golden Eagles' chances of winning the division is pretty much a lock. Lose, and it gives every CUSA West team hope that they can compete with the Hopson-led Golden Eagles.

Previously

WKU

MTSU

FIU

FAU

Old Dominion