Everyone is looking at their BCS Busters this season. The usual suspects are there Boise State, Utah, BYU, and TCU.
There is no question that the four teams above should be in the conversation for the BCS. I would like to throw a team’s hat in to the ring.
I am talking about the University of Southern Mississippi down in Hattiesburg and a member of C-USA. Sure a lot of people think the Pirates of East Carolina will be the class of C-USA and Skip Holtz has done a great job.
Still I will give you the reasons to believe in Southern Miss.
Year two under head coach Larry Fedora
Everywhere Fedora has gone as an offensive coordinator the offense has been one of the best in conference and in the country. No matter if he was at Middle Tennessee, Florida, or Oklahoma State.
In 2008 Fedora replaced Jeff Bower as head coach of Southern Miss. The offense made the switch the spread offense last season.
All Southern Miss offensive did was average 434.5 yards a game and scored 30.7 points a game. Now its year two under Fedora’s potent offense and the Eagles could be even better.
Sixteen Returning Starters
The Golden Eagles return 8 starters on offensive and eight starters on defense. If a team is going make a run at a BCS slot you have to have plenty of starters back on both sides of the ball.
That is eight starters from an offense that ranked 18th in the nation last season. USM also returns nine starters from a defense that ranked 30th in the nation last season.
While the stats from last season might not scary anyone just looking at them, but remember if Fedora can coach them up they could be better this season. Anyone who does not know USM well I can tell you this they always have a tough defense.
Southern Miss has several players in the NFL from the defensive side of the ball. Even if the offense struggles at times the defense will keep the Eagles in every game.
The Three Amigos: Davis, Fletcher, and Brown
Southern Miss returns what quite possibly could be the best three offensive players in C-USA. Those players are Austin Davis at quarterback, Damion Fletcher at running back and DeAndre Brown at wide receiver.
Davis got the start at quarterback as a redshirt freshman last season. He took his lumps as he had difficult games during the season.
Even with the struggles Davis played well in Fedora’s spread offense. Last season, Davis threw for 3,134 yards with 23 passing touchdowns and nine more rushing. In his freshman year Davis had a 128.67 passer rating.
At the end of the season Davis helped turn things around and helped USM reach a bowl game. Southern Miss finished the season by winning their last five games including the bowl.
As long as Davis does not have a sophomore slump he should be even better in his second year.
Fletcher has been one of the best running backs in Southern Miss history. While his 2007 season was his best Fletcher has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons.
This season should give Fletcher a lot of motivation. After some legal trouble for discharging a fire arm Fletcher got a second chance and needs to prove it was the right thing on the field as well as off.
Fletcher has rushed for 4,287 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He had 1,313 yards on 219 carries with 10 touchdowns in 2008.
The last reason Fletcher could have a good season is it is his last at USM. Fletcher will want to put his name at the top of the Eagles record books for rushing. Plus the NFL will come a calling after this season.
DeAndre Brown was having one of the best freshman seasons for a wide out in the country. Until the first quarter of the R+L Carriers Bowl when he broke his leg very reminiscent to Tyrone Prothro of Alabama.
He set the USM season record for receptions with 67 and yards with 1,117 and 12 touchdowns. Brown was named C-USA Freshman of the year and was a first team pick All C-USA.
Brown was nearly unstoppable all season long a wide receiver for the Golden Eagles. If he can come back and be as dominate this season as he was last season USM will have plenty of opportunities to put up huge numbers on offense.
The offense will not have to do it all with three starters returning on the defensive line and all four starters returning in the defensive secondary. Plus the Eagles return Justin Estes in the kicking game.
The Golden Eagles are going into 2009 with 15 consecutive winning seasons. USM has gone to a bowl game for six straight years.
While the home opener against Alcorn State should not be a test there are some games for the Eagles to make a statement. The Eagles will get a chance to make their mark in and out of conference.
The first statement game comes at home September 19th against the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers. The Eagles need to win this game to prove they can play with the major conferences.
The biggest game of the year will come the following week on the road against Kansas. If the Jayhawks can make noise in the Big-12 North and the Big-12 overall will only help the Eagles.
The last out of conference game to make a statement will come against Louisville of the Big East. While the Cardinals are down a win over a Big East team has to help.
In conference the Eagles get a chance at the best of C-USA. USM plays on the road versus Houston and East Carolina.
Southern Miss also gets a very good Tulsa team at home. If the Eagles can get big wins out of these three teams it will make their case for the BCS only stronger.
The schedule might not look like an SEC schedule it still has some tough games. The Eagles will have to finish the season undefeated to even be in the conversation.
Southern Miss could have a season to remember in 2009. The Eagles have the talent to win every game on the schedule this season.
Playing in a state with two other SEC teams sometimes makes USM the red headed stepchild of Mississippi. If the Golden Eagles can win all their games and get a little help they could be the first team not only from C-USA to reach the BCS but from Mississippi as well.