There will be several position battles taking place when Southern Miss fall camp begins Wednesday, but all eyes will be on one competition – quarterback.
Understandably, there's a fair amount of anxiety among the Golden Eagle faithful when it comes to the man behind center.
Nick Mullens, who graduated after the 2016 season, is the only USM quarterback that has won a game since Austin Davis led the Golden Eagles to a 24-17 win over Nevada in the 2011 Hawaii Bowl.
When Mullens started and played the majority of the game over the last four years, USM was 20-19.
In games where Mullens didn't start or left with an injury in the first quarter, USM was 0-11.
Redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs and sophomore Keon Howard will be in the running this fall to be the starter for the Sept. 2 season opener against Kentucky in Hattiesburg.
“They have both competed hard,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “We had a competition that started early last spring and it's been going on and on. They're still competing hard this summer. It's going to be fun to watch that battle.
“I'll get that question over and over through camp, but it's going to be an ongoing battle. If we can name a starter two weeks before, we will. It might go to game day. If both deserve to play, they'll both play. We're going to see how it shakes out. Competition makes the world go round. Both are good competitors and have done a great job.”
Hopson and Griggs were both in attendance Friday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi as part of the 19th annual Gulf Coast Beach Bash, which allows Golden Eagle fans to listen to coach Hopson and meet players.
Wearing a wide grin, Griggs seemed confident as he answered questions about the upcoming season.
“I've been able to get faster, stronger,” he said. “I've been in the film room a lot, going over plays with my quarterbacks coach.”
Griggs got a recent visit from Mullens, now a free agent signee with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I sat down with him four days ago,” Griggs said. “He was teaching me the little things, like when we dropped to this where to go with the football.
“We sat down in the film room and talked straight football.”
Griggs has grown accustomed to reviewing film of Mullens, trying to get a grasp of how the Hoover, Ala., native managed to pass for USM career records of 11,994 yards and 87 touchdowns
“I've watched film on Nick every day,” Griggs said. “He's an incredible player.”
Hopson and his players give little indication as to who will be the starting quarterback this season.
“Keon and Kwadra are really good,” said redshirt sophomore receiver Trevor Terry, a Long Beach native. “We've got a good shot with both of those guys. We push each other, compete. It's like a friendly competition, no bad blood between them. They're real close.”
With senior running back Ito Smith and senior receiver Allenzae Staggers leading the way, either Griggs or Howard will have plenty to work with.
“We can be very explosive,” Griggs said. “We have Ito Smith in the backfield and I can throw to a bunch of guys on the outside who can make plays. We can be a very explosive offense.”
When USM kicks off at 3 p.m. on Sept. 2 against the Wildcats of Kentucky, the starting quarterback will be the player who showed the most leadership and proved most efficient with the ball in his hands.
“It's all about scoring touchdowns and being a leader as quarterback,” Griggs said.