Eagles ready to soar

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 9, 1999

The 1998 season was a learning experience for the University of Southern Mississippi football team.

The Golden Eagles learned valuable lessons. After winning the C-USA title, they learned it is hard to repeat as champs and that all the other teams would gun for them.

USM also learned the price of overconfidence. The heavily favored Golden Eagles lost an offensive shout out with Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl.

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These lessons should make Southern Miss an even better team in 1999.

Offense will be the name of the game for Jeff Bower’s bunch. Bower must find a quarterback to replace departed Lee Roberts. Cable Davis and Jeff Kelly are the front runners for the spot.

Davis, a junior college transfer, should get the nod. Davis passed for 4,800 yards and 47 touchdowns while at Butte Community College.

The Southern Miss offense started hitting on all cylinders at midseason after Derrick Nix became a starter at tail back. Once in the lineup, Nix rushed for 1,180 yards and nine touchdowns, leading C-USA in rushing. Nix has power and break away speed.

Without a doubt, the strength of the Golden Eagles offense is the receivers. Sherrod Gideon and Todd Pinkston are the most prolific pass-catching duo in school history. Pinkston’s 101 career catches rank second to Gideon’s 153.

Gideon is the best receiver to come out of the state of Mississippi since Jerry Rice. With blazing speed and hands to match, Gideon is a game breaker who will draw the attention of any opposing defense. Southern Miss will give opponents a steady dose of Nix, Pinkston and Gideon.

The weakness of the Southern Miss offense will be the offensive line. Shederick Blackmon is the only returning starter. The 325-pound lineman will anchor the line. Bower knows his line will be inexperienced but more athletic. The Golden Eagles defense remains intact. The worst loss the defense had was defensive coordinator John Thompson when he flew the Eagles coop to become head coach at the University of Memphis.

Southern Miss should continue their tradition of a stinging defense.

Lead by preseason All-American Adalius Thomas at the bandit position, Thomas was ranked among the top five nationally in sacks. He finished atop the C-USA charts in sacks and tackles.

Assisting Thomas on the defensive line will be John Nix, DeQuincy Scott and Cedric Scott. T. J. Slaughter and Ty Trahan return as capable linebackers. They led the team in tackles. Terrance Parrish and Leo Barnes return in the secondary.

The defense is an aggressive bunch that will take the fight to the offense. Their unorthodox style of play befuddles many offensive coordinators.

The Golden Eagles must be ready at the start of the season. The first game and last game will decide the C-USA title. USM must defeat their closest competition, Tulane and Louisville, to reclaim the title.

They start the season against archrival Tulane. After the Green Wave, USM faces non-conference foe Northwestern Louisiana.

The next two games is a murder’s row. The Golden Eagles must travel to Nebraska and Texas A&M. No one can ever say the bunch from Hattiesburg is afraid to play the big boys.

After a road game at East Carolina, the Golden Eagles entertain Army and Cincinnati. USM&160;travels to Tuscaloosa to continue their rivalry with Alabama.

USM wraps up the season with road games at Memphis and Louisville.

The Golden Eagles should win all conference games plus two non-conference games. That much is given.

They have the talent to defeat a good Alabama team, which would lead to a 9-2 season. If USM can upset either Nebraska or Texas A&M, Southern Miss can expect a special season and a Top Ten ranking.