To the casual college football fan, a Saturday night matchup between the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and the Texas State Bobcats is just another game among the myriad of games in week three. For Golden Eagles head coach Todd Monken, it may be the single most important game during his time with the program.
Monken, hired away from Oklahoma State as an offensive coordinator to replace Ellis Johnson, was expected to right the Southern Miss football program after a wayward 0-12 season. The Golden Eagles did improve during his first year at the helm to 1-11 and moved to 3-9 in his second season. Pundits throughout the nation expect Monken to take yet another step forward and lead the program back to bowl eligibility this season.
So why is this game the biggest of Monken's career at Southern Miss?
Simply put, the Golden Eagles have four, maybe five, games left on the schedule that are very winnable. A victory over Texas State would put the team at 2-1 with the likelihood of getting to six wins increasing significantly from current odds. A loss to Texas State would mean that Southern Miss would HAVE to beat either UTEP, Rice, Marshall, or Louisiana Tech to get to six wins.
The Golden Eagles coaching staff have made it abundantly clear that they are shooting for a bowl berth or bust this season in bringing so many JUCO and transfers from other FBS programs into the fold. We could go through the list yet again, but anyone watching the team has seen the FBS and JUCO transfers in action and know who they are. Many of those transfer players are here for one more season and have literally one chance to get Monken and company to a bowl.
Their opponent, Texas State, is no slouch of a program and come into this game as a three-point favorite according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. The quarterback-running back combination of Tyler Jones (a 2,600 yard passer in 2014) and Robert Lowe (a 1,000 yard rusher in 2014) is one of the best in the Sun Belt and the Bobcats have arguably the best defensive player in the Sun Belt, cornerback David Mims II on the roster.
In similar fashion to Willie Taggart at South Florida, the third year is when expectations rise and the fan base doesn't hope, but instead expects to see significant improvement. The Golden Eagles fan base is a prideful one and expect excellence on a yearly basis, making the last three seasons agonizing for a group desperate to cheer a winning team once again. Monken has to know that a 5-21 record so far as head coach has not inspired very much confidence, but the administration will forgive those rebuilding years with a great 2015 season.