Mississippi schools have a variety of goals

Published 12:15am Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jamey Chadwell has big shoes to fill at Delta State University, but right now, his focus is simply on re-tooling the Statesmen.

After previous Statesmen head coach Ron Roberts led Delta State to four Southland Conference championships in five seasons, Chadwell inherits a roster with some serious turnover.

With 35 seniors to replace, Chadwell begins his season Saturday with a team full of players who haven’t seen a lot of playing time. While expectations are always high, Chadwell said he has to enter into this season with a realistic attitude.

As the Mississippi schools kick off their seasons Saturday, each team has their set of goals they’re shooting for — some alike, some different. In Delta State’s case, it’s building a future for Chadwell’s Statesmen.

Alcorn State University is also in a building phase, and head coach Jay Hopson will lead his team into the port City Classic Saturday against Grambling State at 6 p.m. in Shreveport, La.

After going through some rough times in recent years, Braves fans are hoping Hopson can lead the program back to SWAC prominence. While the Port City Classic is a big game — especially since it’s Hopson’s first as Braves head coach — it’s not the be-all end-all of games.

Hopson insisted recently that he wasn’t building his team on the Grambling State game. He’s right to take that attitude. The main focus of the Braves shouldn’t be the wins and losses this year; the weekly improvements of the players.

Meanwhile, Hopson and his staff will spend much time on the recruiting trail between now and February, which will likely be the most critical part of the job for him. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any football program, and Alcorn needs the kind of athletes that put the school over the top.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze also enters into his inaugural season with the Rebels, and his goals are likely similar to Hopson’s. It’s going to be less about the wins and losses (except against Mississippi State) and more about recruiting and building a program.

With the two-headed monster of Alabama and LSU in the SEC West, not to mention the addition of Texas A&M and its fertile recruiting ground, Freeze has his work cut out for him. If he can build a consistent winner in Oxford, Rebel fans will have a lot to be happy about.

Southern Mississippi is coming off a strong season with a Conference USA title and a 12-2 record. New head coach Ellis Johnson will have to establish his own identity at USM after former head coach Larry Fedora led the Golden Eagles to their first 10-win season since 1988 last fall.

Johnson comes in with a defensive mindset, having previously served as defensive coordinator at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier. He’ll be looking to continue the momentum the Golden Eagles picked up in 2011.

Dan Mullen is the only returning head coach on our list, and last season’s 7-6 record was a bit of a step down after Mississippi State went 9-4 in 2010. Gone is the Bulldogs’ two-quarterback system, as Tyler Russell is poised to take over under center.

In year four for Mullen, the Bulldogs will be looking to take the next step, and that means beating an SEC West opponent other than Ole Miss. Alabama and LSU pose quite a challenge, but Auburn and Texas A&M — both home games for MSU — will be good litmus tests for where the Bulldogs are as a program.