Believe it: Southern is the real deal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 9, 2001

1A aptly describes college football at the University of Southern Mississippi. Year in and year out USM plays right there with the best in that top college classification. And Conference USA coaches are the first to second that notion. League have tabbed coach Jeff Bower’s Golden Eagles for a third place finish in C-USA’s 2001 football campaign, and some of those are &uot;scared to death&uot; they’ll surpass that. Me? I like the Southerners to win the C-USA championship this fall. Biased? Yep, perhaps, but I forsee good things for them.

The coaches selected USM linebacker Rod Davis and defensive back Chad Williams as preseason all-conference operatives. That’s OK, but at least two of three offensive players also rate consideration for C-USA honors. Of course, I historically fail to pick many of ’em right in preseason reasoning. In fact, I historically miss on a lot of them. Well, maybe not that bad, always.

C-USA is five-years-old, and in three of these seasons coach Jeff Bower’s charges either won or shared first place in football – 1A, remember. And C-USA wise, domineering. Last year, the Southerners were 8-4 overall, 4-3 in the league and toppled No. 13-ranked Texas Christian in the Mobile Alabama Bowl.

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Seventeen starters return from that food team – nine on offense, four on defense and four on special teams. But numbers don’t always tell the story, although in USM’s case they are for a fact imposing. We all know, of course, that it’s all iffy, number or not.

In a nutshell, Southern has nifty veteran quarterback Jeff Kelly back, plus some fine hands in Derrick Nix, wide receiver LeRoy Handy, linebacker Davis and other linebacking ace Rod Davis. The Golden Eagles just look good, that’s all. Believe.

HURRIED HASH My mug-column will be missing from this Natchez Democrat spot the next two Thursdays. I should have something back here by Aug. 30, afer vacation.

Alcorn State University has problems as a rule against other Southwestern Athletic conference teams, but Dr. Joihnny Thomas feels that his coaching in 2001 will reap some dividends in the SWAC. Some might remind that his Braves couldn’t do any worse than they did last year at 0-11. But coach Thomas is shooting a lot higher.

Alabama A&M head coach Ron Cooper cautions the rest of SWAC that &uot;Whoever made the decision to keep him (coach Cooper) was smart. When I found out most of their players were 18- and 19-year olds, I said, ‘Uh-oh, those guys are about to be good.’&uot; A good season would mean more fun for Miss-Lou fans Alcorn State.

New members Texas Christian University bellies up against a full bevy of C-USA foes for the first time this fall. And in fall 2003, South Florida starts play in the better-than-some-think major college football league, whose champion this fall will end in a major postseason bowl for sure.

Naturally, I’m pulling for USM and coach Bower, who doesn’t mind telling folks his goals, and never has. I guess Bower’s just like that – shoot high, talk optimistically about it and get after it. I go to Hattiesburg now and then, and I can tell you that folks over there are gung-ho for the Golden Eagles.

See you back here Aug. 30.