1. This offseason wound up being pretty chaotic for the Golden Eagles, after a pretty promising season under Todd Monken. What exactly led to his departure, and what's the vibe around the program right now?
Basically, it all came down to the right opportunity at the right time. Monken always seemed like the type of coach that could end up running an NFL team at one point. He spent the 2007-2010 seasons with Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter at Jacksonvillle. Koetter and Monken were friends and the job came open. Monken couldn't turn down that opportunity to run an NFL offense for a very good friend. There was an odd vibe of happiness for Monken but also a feeling of betrayal due to the timing of him stepping down less than two weeks before national signing day.
Many of those bad feelings went away when Southern Miss hired Jay Hopson away from Alcorn State. The current vibe is excitement with the fan base believing they have their next Jeff Bower.
2. I see just 12 starters back for USM -- something of a rebuilding year with a new head coach coming, or is there hope for building on last year's success?
Last season was an odd year with over 30 players on the roster either JUCO, FBS, or FCS transfers. Despite many starters missing from last season, there is a wealth of experience remaining all over the field. Many of the FBS transfers are gone, but former Auburn tight end Ricky Parks as well as former Ragin' Cajuns kicker Stephen Brauchle return. This year, there are 26 players that come from JUCO, FBS, and FCS programs.Mike Thomas (WR), Casey Martin (WR), Brian Anderson (LB), and Kalan Reed (CB) will be the toughest players to replace but there are very capable backups ready to step up.Expectations for Southern Miss rotate between winning the Conference USA West Division and winning Conference USA outright. Anything less than 8-9 wins and a trip to the CUSA title game would be a disappointment for this group.
3. Any surprises this spring?
The play of redshirt freshman running back Patrick Brooks. With Jalen Richard off to the NFL, the Golden Eagles needed a running back to step up this spring. Brooks sat out last season as a redshirt, but has been one of the top performers this spring. For the Southern Miss offense to run correctly, there have to be at least two running backs that can play a significant number of snaps. Brooks coming in and playing so well in the spring takes some pressure off of George Payne (coming off of a knee injury in 2015).
4. Any disappointments or causes for concern?
The biggest causes for concern are in the trenches. There are way too many positions that have yet to be filled on either side of the line. The Golden Eagles have to replace both offensive tackles and a majority of the defensive line. Until those players are penciled into the starting lineup, it is a worry.
5. This is a proud mid-major program with a history of pulling some big upsets. Will USM have that mentality entering the matchup, or is this more of a typical paycheck game until the new coach can establish his own program a bit more?
Even when Southern Miss went 0-12 under Ellis Johnson, there is always the belief that they can pull an upset. They had chances in the fourth quarter to tie or take the lead versus both Mississippi State and Nebraska so they are no stranger to playing toe to toe with the elites of college football.I think they are realistic that a top five ranked LSU on the road is quite the feat, but they are going in with the mindset that they can beat anyone this season.