By PATRICK MAGEE
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Southern Miss football coach Todd Monken and quarterback Nick Mullens received two of Conference USA's top individual honors on Wednesday.
Monken was named C-USA Coach of the Year and junior quarterback Nick Mullens was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year.
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The Golden Eagles went from 4-32 in the three previous seasons to a 9-4 mark and a Conference USA West title. Monken, 49, is 13-24 in three seasons as the USM head coach.
Monken becomes the first USM coach to win the honor since Jeff Bower did it in 2003 when the Golden Eagles finished 9-4 with a C-USA title.
Mullens is the first USM player to be named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in the school's 20 years in the league.
USM is set to play Washington (6-6) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26 at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas.
Monken credited his team's improved play to changes made in the offseason.
“We've just come so far,” Monken said. “There was a stretch (from 2011-13) where they had three coaches in three years. We had to deal with attrition and things culture-wise. We started that process.
“There were things we needed to do better. We had to get to 85 scholarships. It's a talent game. You've got to have talent and it's a matter of what you do with that talent.”
Monken received a $10,000 bonus for the honor and has received $50,000 in bonuses in total this season.
USM was the most improved team in FBS this year after going 3-9 a year ago.
Some of USM's top seniors, including cornerback Kalan Reed and running back Jalen Richard, signed with the school during Ellis Johnson's one season as head coach in 2012, but Monken and his staff have carried the weight of the program's rebound effort.
“I told (staff members) when we took over it won't be like we've got a quarterback coming back with all the starters,” Monken said. “I told them 'When we do it, we will have done it.'”
The Golden Eagles set numerous offensive records this season including a new total yardage mark of 6,758. USM ranks ninth in the nation at average yards per game at 519.8.
Monken and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey pieced together an offense that produced a 4,000-yard passer (Mullens) and two 1,000-yard rushers (Jalen Richard and Ito Smith). The only other team to accomplish that was the 2008 Oklahoma squad.
Mullens set new single-season marks for passing yardage and touchdowns at Southern Miss. He completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 4,145 yards, 36 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.
Mullens showed tremendous improvement in his third year as a starter, tripling his touchdown passes from a year ago.
Mullens ranks seventh in the national in passing yardage.
Other honors: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty was named Conference USA MVP. Marshall linebacker Evan McKelvey was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. Special Teams Player of the Year honors went to Marshall return specialist Deandre Reeves. Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill was named Freshman of the Year. Louisiana Tech senior quarterback Jeff Driskel was tabbed the league's Newcomer of the Year.