After 2015 produced several breakout performances by Southern Miss football players, 2016 will give several other Golden Eagles their chance to shine.
Some will move into starting roles while others are returning starters who will benefit from another year in the system.
Here are five USM players set to have breakthrough seasons in 2016:
1. Junior running back George Payne: The Mobile native sat out the season due to injury. He rushed for 271 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. He’s not quite the home run threat that Jalen Richard was, but his numbers should take a major upswing in 2016.
2. Sophomore receiver Korey Robertson: He showed he was capable of big things when he received early chances in 2015 as a redshirt freshman. He caught 14 passes 200 yards and three scores. He will have competition from junior college transfers, but the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Robertson has a chance to be a star.
3. Junior defensive end Naim Mustafaa: The former Miami and Oklahoma State defensive lineman often appeared to be one of the Golden Eagles’ more athletic defenders in 2015. He had 23 tackles and an interception.
4. Junior running back Ito Smith: After sharing the load with Jalen Richard in 2015, Smith will be the feature back this year. The 2015 campaign was a breakout season for Smith, but 2016 should be even bigger. He finished as USM’s leading rusher with 171 carries for 1,128 yards and 10 touchdowns.
5. Senior safety D’Nerius Antoine: Much like Smith, 2015 was a breakout season for Antoine. In 2016, Antoine will be the star of the secondary with the graduation of cornerback Kalan Reed. Antoine had 103 tackles and two interceptions this season.