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New faces, same expectations for Southern Mississippi

August 18, 2018
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Southern Mississippi running back Tez Parks, carries the football upfield during NCAA college football practice at Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Southern Mississippi faces the daunting task of replacing its star running back, top two receivers and multiple talented defensive players. Probably the quarterback, too.

From an outside perspective, it looks like the Golden Eagles might be in for a rebuilding year.

Third-year coach Jay Hopson isn’t buying that argument.

“There’s always a few spots where we need to stay healthy, but I’m pleased. This team has a lot of talent,” Hopson said. “We just need to keep pressing and get better.”

Sophomore Jack Abraham is the Golden Eagles’ likely starting quarterback after senior Kwadra Griggs was suspended indefinitely earlier this month “pending resolution of a student conduct matter.”

Hopson has not elaborated on Griggs’ suspension or if he expects him to be eligible at any point during the season. Griggs threw for 1,879 yards last season and was the only quarterback on the roster with FBS experience.

Abraham threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to Southern Miss.

“I’m just going out there and showing I can do the right thing every day,” Abraham said. “Putting the ball in the right spots.”

Southern Miss hopes that seniors Tez Parks and George Payne can help fill the void at running back after Ito Smith left for the NFL. The defense will lean on an experienced group of linebackers, including Racheem Boothe, Jeremy Sangster and Paxton Schrimsher.

“We’ve got guys in certain spots where it’s their time to learn it and learn it quick,” Hopson said. “That’s always a battle in coaching. Sometimes you have everybody back, sometimes you’ve got to replace a few guys.”

Some other things to know about the Golden Eagles in 2018:

REPLACING ITO

The Golden Eagles must replace several good players from last year’s team, but the toughest to do without might be running back Ito Smith. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder was taken in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons after a stellar college career that included 4,538 yards rushing, 1,446 yards receiving and 49 total touchdowns.

ANOTHER CHANCE VS THE SEC

Southern Miss is just two years removed from its last win against Southeastern Conference competition when it beat Kentucky 44-35 to open the 2016 season. The Golden Eagles get another chance for an SEC win when they travel to face Auburn on Sept. 29

BACK ON TRACK

Southern Miss is going for its fourth straight winning season — a minor miracle considering how badly the program cratered earlier in the decade. The Golden Eagles went 0-12 in 2012 under coach Ellis Johnson before slowly rebuilding the program under Todd Monken, who went 1-11 in 2013, 3-9 in 2014 and then 9-5 in 2015. Hopson’s been able to sustain that success through his first two seasons.

WELCOME BACK PICASSO

The Golden Eagles should get a boost in the secondary thanks to the return of senior Picasso Nelson. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder missed all of last season because of an injury, but made more than 130 tackles over three seasons from 2014-16.

SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE

Southern Miss opens with Jackson State on Sept. 1 and has some difficult road games in the season’s first half against Appalachian State, Auburn and North Texas. The Golden Eagles have a crucial three-game stretch in November against Marshall, UAB and Louisiana Tech. All three of those programs are expected to be C-USA title contenders.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP .

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