The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


Five reasons Will Hall’s 2023 campaign will be the turning point for Southern Miss football, and one big reason it might not.

Charlie Luttrell

It is that time of year again. The time of year when on a chilly October morning, you turn on the television and watch ESPN’s College Gameday before loading up the kids heading to watch Southern Miss football play.

Some might say it is the best time of the year; others might save that rhetoric for baseball season. Nevertheless, the 2023 football season is upon us, and the excitement and anticipations for Southern Miss head coach Will Hall’s third year with the program could not be higher. Hall’s message to the fans for the past two seasons is that the program he inherited could not be overturned overnight but rather a process that will take time to rebuild.

In recruiting, the mantra always is that the first two years after being recruited is the time for the coaches to coach and train you to be at the best of your ability, and by year three, you should be showing no doubt to the school who recruited you that you were worth the sign. In the same unique way, Hall was hired by Southern Miss to recruit in-state boys and put Southern Miss as the “best group of five team in America,” as Hall likes to say, and after two steady years of change, year three is upon him.

Hall’s first two years have been riddled with things outside his control. Mainly injuries have killed all momentum for the offense, which has been stagnant over the past two years. But is 2023 the turning point? Will 2023 be the year Southern Miss finally competes for a conference title for the first time since 2015?

Here are five reasons this might be the case:


1. It will be nice to have a competent QB play.

Charlie Luttrell

It could be argued that the injuries at quarterback have defined Hall’s first two years. In 2021, his Golden Eagles cycled through 10 different players taking the snaps behind the line, and none could steadily run the offense. It was bad enough that Hall ditched the QB in the depth chart altogether and penciled in the “super back” in the playbook, which essentially was a glorified wildcat.

In 2022 Hall did not want to use the super back unless he absolutely had to, and fate would have it that he would need it in the first game against Liberty after starting QB Ty Keyes went down. QB play was up and down throughout the 2022 season, with no one player being the best option.

However, this season poises to be different. With the editions of Billy Wiles (Clemson), Holeman Edwards (Houston), and Kyle McCormick, along with the returns of Jake Lange and Zack Wilcke, Southern Miss probably feels the strongest about its QB room in the three years Hall has been here.

With the QB battle going strong right into fall camp, it seems to be a three-person race, with Edwards, Wiles, and Wilcke all competing for the starting job. Letting all three play vs. Alcorn State in week one is not outside the realm of possibility, either.

2. Frank Gore Jr.

Charlie Luttrell

Fourth-year Frank Gore Jr might be the best Frank Gore Jr we have seen in his three years here. After three years of solid numbers and single handily leading Southern Miss to the bowl season and winning the bowl game, it is wild to say we may not even have seen the best of him yet.

Why is this year different with Gore Jr? Simple, the offensive line. The offensive line might be the best offensive line in the Sun Belt, but not only that, but also the depth and the ability to rotate full numbers of sets between your starters. The offensive line returns 87 career starts, and they have a plethora of talent behind them. That was not the case in the previous years.

While Gore Jr loves throwing the ball, I think all Southern Miss fans should hope that this season does not count on that…. again. Because I think you want Gore Jr’s job to be to run the football. They have seen what he can do, and he has not done it with this good offensive line before.

The single-season record for yards in Southern Miss history is 1,586 by Damion Fletcher in 2007. Gore Jr had 1,382 last season. There is certainly a conversation that Gore Jr could eclipse that 1586 number this year.


3. A veteran defense

Charlie Luttrell

Over the past two years, the defense coached by Austin Armstrong has arguably been the reason the Golden Eagles had been able to stick around in games when the offense was so stagnant. This year, with Dan O’Brian’s first year with the keys to the defense, you could not ask for a better defense to be handed to you.

The front seven might be the best in the Sun Belt. On the D line, they lost Dominic Quewon but returned three other starters making this a solid defensive front. Last year, they were good against the run allowing 138 ypg, which might even be better this year. The linebackers lost Cantrell Latham, Daylen Gill, and Tylan Knight but returned TQ Newsome and Jalil Clemons. They also benefited from the return of Averie Habas, who had a great year last season, and Hayes Maples and Swayze Boseman, each coming back from injury.

Generally, when you lose three starters in a position room, you might panic, but Southern Miss will not have that much of a drop-off, if any.

Jay Stanley is the only cornerback for Southern Miss. However, Hall added Dylan Lawrence from Mississippi State and MJ Daniels and Elijah Sabbatini from Ole Miss. You feel good about your starters in the secondary; you do worry a bit about the depth in that position, in any case.

However, all in all, it is a very veteran defense, but this year combined with a good offense amounts to a scary team.


4. Depth

Outside of the secondary, Hall feels good this is the first year with his depth in every position. Even in the RB room, with all the talk being about Gore Jr, the Golden Eagles added Rodrigues “Dreke” Clark from Memphis, who showed flashes in the spring game of his abilities. And, of course, they will have Chandler Pittman back in the super back position as well as star receivers in Ty Mims and Jakarius Caston.

The offensive line has three complete rotations for the first time, and the defensive line also has significant depth. Hall has touted depth all through the past two seasons, and this is the season where he has the most, and depth will not be a reason they cannot compete.


5. October 17 @ South Alabama

Dima Mixon

If Southern Miss lives up to the talent on the roster and they show that they are genuinely ready to take the next step with the program, the October 17th game at South Alabama will be the game to win. Obviously, Hall’s legacy is not going to ride on just this one game, but I think if this season is the turning point for Southern Miss football, they have to go to Mobile and win this game.

In the best-case scenario, Southern Miss enters this game 5-1 (3-0) playing a 5-1 (2-0) South Alabama. This game will allow the winner to control their own destiny for the Sun Belt West, and Southern Miss is good enough to win this game. This game will define the season. If they win this game, year three will likely be the year that the Southern Miss football program takes a giant turn for the better.


Those are the reasons that this year will be the turning point for Hall and company in 2023. There is one big reason this may all be fruitless, and it is not in direct refutation of the points mentioned but rather something to be aware of.


1. The schedule

Charlie Luttrell

Southern Miss boasts a demanding schedule in the 2023 campaign. You could argue that three of the first four games are losable outside the Alcorn State game. It does not get much easier from there. After back-to-back home games with Texas State and Old Dominion, they go on the road to face South Alabama (the favorite for the west) and Appalachian State (in the mix for the east.) Then after ULM, they go to Louisiana and Mississippi State, then defending Sun Belt champion Troy to close out the year.

Even with all the positives going into this season, a schedule like that means some slip-ups. And in the college football world, a few slip-ups here and there can derail a season quickly.

So, I caution against those who get to week eight, and USM is sitting there at 4-4 and questioning Hall. Because he is rebuilding this program, but year three might not be the year you see the turn.

But as they say, only time will tell.

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