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Analyzing USM’s schedule and bowl chances

Now that the Mississippi State game is in the books, it is time to look forward to the rest of the schedule, which is, for the most part, much easier, aside from a couple of games.

The upcoming test will come this Saturday against another in-state opponent, Alcorn State.  Alcorn State is coming off of a 55-7 victory over Virginia University at Lynchburg, as well as a 9-3 season in 2013. While this may seem impressive, their competition at the FCS level is nowhere near as good as Southern Miss.

Alcorn State has a run-first offense led by senior Robert Clay and a strong defense when it comes to defending against the run. This could make this matchup a little more difficult than it should be, but USM is easily the superior team.

The following week, the Golden Eagles will travel to take on the No. 2 team in the nation in Tuscaloosa. Alabama did not look as dominant as in years past against West Virginia, but fifth-year quarterback Blake Sims proved to be a dynamic playmaker, capable of carving up defenses.

Their defense is always littered with All-Americans and this year will be no different with safety Landon Collins leading the way. As the MSU game showed, USM simply is not ready to compete with SEC teams, especially those of Alabama’s caliber.

Following the daunting task that is facing Bama, USM will take on FCS newcomer Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are famous for upsetting Michigan years ago, but this year’s Mountaineer team is not nearly as talented.

They are coming off a 52-14 slaughter at the hands of Michigan and finished just 4-8 last season. Appalachian State is led by true freshman running back Terrence Upshaw, who was able to run for 109 yards with a 6.1 yard average against Michigan. Upshaw is not alone in the Mountaineer backfield as sophomore Marcus Cox chipped in 47 yards in that matchup as well.

This duo could give the USM defense fits, but the big advantage USM has is with their receivers against the Mountaineers’ secondary.  Their secondary was filled with openings against Michigan and it appeared that they simply do not have FBS-quality corners or safeties just yet. This game could be close, but USM just has too much firepower for the Mountaineers to keep up with.

After that four-game stretch when USM plays two inferior teams, at least on paper, and two SEC powerhouses, they will begin their conference schedule at home against Rice. Rice is the defending C-USA champion, but lost their bowl game and their season-opener by a combined 68 points.

But nobody at USM should read too much into those two losses because they came at the hands of Mississippi State and Notre Dame. Rice’s biggest threat offensively is their junior quarterback Driphus Jackson, who is a very capable dual-threat quarterback. Jackson accounted for 224 all-purpose yards against a very stingy Notre Dame defense.

This matchup will tell us everything we need to know about this season as Rice is one of the more complete teams in the conference. Looking at this game on paper, it is hard to believe that USM has enough talent and depth to hang with them for four quarters.

Their next opponent is Middle Tennessee State, who defeated USM 42-21 last November. MTSU is coming off an eight-win season that ended with a loss to Navy in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

MTSU is one of the rare balanced teams in college football, ranked in the top 40 in both rushing and passing offense, and are led by sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer, who posted an other-worldly total QBR of 95.7 in their season-opener against Savannah State.  We will know more about MTSU after they travel to play Minnesota this weekend, but the early indications are that USM will struggle mightily against the Blue Raiders.

Southern Miss will continue their October slate when they travel to take on North Texas, who thrashed USM by 41 last season. However, that Mean Green team was led by quarterback Derek Thompson, who has since graduated.

If their season-opener is any indication, they are in trouble at the quarterback position.  Their two quarterbacks that played combined to complete just three of their 17 pass attempts.

By this point in the season, USM’s defense should be playing at a high level and will be able to hold down the North Texas offense. This game might be a 41-point blowout going in Southern Miss’ favor.

The following weekend, USM will host Louisiana Tech, a team which handed the Golden Eagles a 36-13 loss last season. However, that was La. Tech’s last victory as they stumbled to a 4-8 record last season along with losing their opener to Oklahoma, 48-16.

Like North Texas, La. Tech is breaking in a new quarterback in senior Cody Sokol. He made his debut in the opener and fared pretty well considering the level of competition he was facing in the Oklahoma defense. He completed 61 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns and one interception.

This is a hard game to predict as USM and La. Tech match up pretty evenly.  This game is probably going to go down to the wire, but USM has the slight edge due to home-field advantage.

USM will then travel to El Paso, Texas, to take on UTEP and to kick off the November slate. The Miners are led by senior quarterback Jameill Showers, who seems to have been around forever.  Showers began his career at Texas A&M, spending three years there before transferring to UTEP before last season. He only was able to play the first six games last season before suffering an injury, but still ended up with 15 total touchdowns.

Showers is not their main weapon; sophomore running back Aaron Jones will take the crown for that distinction. In their 24-17 win over New Mexico, he ran for 237 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.  These two are going to be a handful for USM and will probably end up being too much for the Golden Eagles.

The defense will not get much of a break at all the following week as the most prolific offensive player in the conference will come to Hattiesburg in a Saturday night showdown.  Senior quarterback Rakeem Cato has thrown for over 10,000 yards and 102 total touchdowns in just over two and half years as the leader of the Thundering Herd.

Cato has a chance to enter the Heisman Trophy race if he can keep his team undefeated and should not have any problems with the USM defense.  It would be nice to think that USM will compete in this game, but that just is not realistic. Cato will have a field day.

The Golden Eagles will travel to play UTSA on the following Thursday night. The Roadrunners are riding a six-game winning streak dating back to last October. They were able to handle their first opponent, Houston, quite handily, winning 27-7.

The Roadrunners’ strength is their stingy defense that has not allowed more than 15 points since their 52-31 win over UAB that started their winning streak. The defense is led by a balanced secondary that had four interceptions against Houston. Triston Wade, Crosby Adams III, Bennett Okotcha and Mauricio Sanchez each had a pick.

If the Golden Eagles cannot establish a solid running game by this time, Nick Mullens will have a long night against this secondary. UTSA’s defense is simply too strong for Southern Miss in this contest.

USM will close the season at home against the only team they have beaten in nearly three calendar years: the UAB Blazers. However, UAB looks much improved this season and are led by the 11th best rushing attack in the nation.

Sophomore Jordan Howard and senior D.J. Vinson each ran for over 100 yards in their season-opening blowout win against Troy. Howard ran for two scores, Vinson ran for one, while junior quarterback Cody Clements added another one on the ground in their 48-10 win.

This rushing attack will certainly challenge the Golden Eagles’ front seven, but they should be up for challenge.  For some reason or another, it seems like quarterback Nick Mullens, along with the rest of the USM team, simply has UAB’s number.

It seems like a stretch to think that USM is capable of reaching a bowl game this year as they simply do not match up well enough with the opponents on their schedule. They have an outside shot of reaching the magical mark of six wins, but four or five wins seems much more likely.

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Analyzing USM’s schedule and bowl chances