Southern Miss

The 2019 Southern Miss football schedule is a tough one. Here’s a full breakdown.

The Southern Miss football team faces a doozy of a 2019 schedule with only five home games and two SEC contests on the slate.

It marks the first time that USM has had a five-game home slate since 2013. That was the season when the athletic department decided it was best to sell a home game to Nebraska to help pay off the remainder the contract for Ellis Johnson, who was fired as head coach following one winless season in 2012.

A glance at the record book reveals that USM is no stranger to playing more games on the road than at home, but that mostly hasn’t been the case since the Football Bowl Subdivision went to a 12-game regular season in 2006.

Considering three of the non-conference games are against Alabama, Mississippi State and a Troy team that is 31-8 over the last three years, this year’s slate ranks among the toughest since the turn of the century.

Here’s a full breakdown of the 2019 season and USM’s chances of winning each contest:

Aug. 31 — ALCORN STATE

Game time: 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN+

Location: Roberts Stadium

Alcorn State’s strength: Redshirt senior quarterback Noah Johnson, who threw for 2,207 yards and rushed for 1,080 in 2018, is the reigning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. Also, senior running back De’Shawn Waller is back after running for 1,206 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Breakdown: USM offensive line coach Ryan Stanchek was the offensive coordinator at ASU a year ago and the Braves rushed for a total of 3,706 yards. Alcorn State’s prolific ground game will give USM something to think about headed into the season opener, but the Southern Miss defense should slow the Braves down.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 100 percent.

Sept. 7 – at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Game time: 2:30 p.m.

TV: ESPNU

Location: Starkville

MSU’s strength: The Bulldogs lost a lot of experienced talent from a stellar 2018 defense, but don’t expect them to take much of a step back. MSU will be strong at the corners with Cameron Dantzler and Maurice Smitherman. Up front, Chauncey Rivers should lead a good group of defensive ends.

Breakdown: Joe Moorhead made a nice debut as the MSU head coach in 2018, leading the Bulldogs to an 8-5 season. However, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald didn’t seem to be a good fit in his offensive scheme and it remains to be seen whether Keytaon Thompson can step in as the starter at quarterback. Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens has garnered some buzz, but it remains to be seen if he will be the answer at the position. If MSU enters the opener with uncertainty at quarterback against a very good USM defense, there is the potential for an upset.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 20 percent.

Sept. 14 — at TROY

Game time: 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN+

Troy’s strength: Few Group of 5 teams have as much proven talent as the Trojans do in the backfield. Kaleb Barker and Sawyer Smith split starts last season after Barker went down with a season-ending injury. At running back, the Trojans return B.J. Smith, who accounted for 1,093 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Breakdown: Troy has a new head coach in former USM offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. The Trojans do have some key areas to address like the receiving corps, but the only thing that may slow down Troy this season is the upheaval that follows any coaching change.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 40 percent.

Sept. 21 — at ALABAMA

Game time: TBD

TV: TBD

Bama’s strength: It’s hard to point out a weakness on a Crimson Tide squad that will be back in the national title hunt. Junior QB Tua Tagovailoa will again be surrounded by loads of talent on offense, including star receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Breakdown: While it’s hard to imagine Alabama taking much of a step back on defense, it lost a great deal through the 2019 NFL Draft. While I can see USM giving MSU a challenge, it will be next to impossible to do the same in Tuscaloosa.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 0 percent.

Sept. 28 — UTEP

Game time: 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN+

UTEP’s strength: The Miners were competitive against C-USA competition midway through the 2018 season and managed to end a 20-game losing skid with a 34-26 win over Rice. Senior Kai Locksley has the potential to step up as a productive quarterback, but he’s been suspended after an incident where he threatened to use a gun on people in an El Paso entertainment district.

Breakdown: UTEP fans are hoping for signs of progress after going 1-11 in Dana Dimel’s first season as head coach. After USM manhandled UTEP 39-7 in El Paso last year, it’s hard to see the Miners putting up much of a fight in Hattieburg.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 90 percent.

Oct. 12 — NORTH TEXAS (homecoming)

Game time: 6 p.m.

TV: Stadium on Facebook

UNT’s strength: The Mean Green feature the best quarterback in Conference USA in Mason Fine, good experience at receiver and an explosive junior running back in Gautier native DeAndre Torrey. The Mean Green will be hard to slow down this season.

Breakdown: UNT and Fine appear to have USM’s number with three consecutive wins in the series. Last year’s USM defeat in Denton saw the Mean Green pull away late for a 30-7 drubbing. USM will have the home field avantage, but UNT will have the edge at quarterback.

Chance of a Southern Miss win: 40 percent.

Oct. 19 — at LOUISIANA TECH

Game time: 2:30 p.m.

TV: NFL Network

La. Tech’s strength: J’Mar Smith is back for his senior year at quarterback and he’ll have a nice complement of weapons surrounding him, including the top two running backs from a year ago — Jaqwis Dancy and Israel Tucker.

Breakdown: While USM has faltered recently against North Texas and UAB in division play, it has won four straight against the Bulldogs. USM seems to scheme well for Smith and the La. Tech offense. This year’s USM squad may feature Jay Hopson’s best defense yet.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 60 percent.

Oct. 26 — at RICE

Game time: Noon.

TV: ESPN+

Rice’s strength: It the Owls get decent quarterback play, it’s easy to see them making life difficult for C-USA competition. Rice returns three receivers who combined for 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018 — Austin Trammell, Aaron Cephus and tight end Jordan Myers.

Breakdown: The Rice defense was the worst in C-USA a year ago, allowing 36 points a game. Southern Miss should have little trouble in Houston.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 90 percent.

Nov. 9 — UAB

Game time: 2:30 p.m.

TV: NFL Network

UAB’s strength: The Blazers have plenty of production to replace on offense, but running back Spencer Brown will be a nice player to build around. He ran 247 times for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Breakdown: UAB received mediocre quarterback play for much of the 2018 season, but that didn’t stop them from claiming a C-USA title behind to an impressive defense. The Blazers will again be competitive, but it’s easy to see their three-game win streak against USM coming to a halt in Hattiesburg.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 65 percent.

Nov. 16 — at UTSA

Game time: 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN+

UTSA’s strength: Junior defensive end Lorenzo Dantzler, who received a redshirt at USM in 2016, is part of what should be a solid defensive line. The Roadrunners will rely on their defense to set the tone.

Breakdown: The UTSA offense seems to get consistently worse with each season and there’s little reason to believe it will be much better this year. This is another road game that USM should handle.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 75 percent.

Nov. 23 — WKU

Game time: 2:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN+

WKU’s strength: While first-year head coach Tyson Helton works to get the offense back on track, the Hilltoppers will likely rely on the defense to keep them in games. Clayton White was retained as defensive coordinator from Mike Sanford’s staff.

Breakdown: This contest will wrap up a four-game stretch that appear to be must-win games if the Golden Eagles are going to get back into a bowl game. The Hilltoppers are rebuilding and USM shouldn’t have much problem in Hattiesburg.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 85 percent.

Nov. 30 — at FAU

Game time: 2:30 p.m.

TV: NFL Network

FAU’s strength: Chris Robison is back as the starting quarterback and he has a solid group of receivers to work with. Tight end Harrison Bryant caught 45 passes for 662 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Breakdown: Former USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro lasted only one season at FAU, leaving for a spot on the staff at Kansas. He was replaced by former Charlotte defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who just needs to get a little more out of the Owls’ defense to put them in contention in the C-USA East. This is an odd match-up for the regular season finale and won’t be an easy trip for the Golden Eagles.

Chances of a Southern Miss win: 45 percent.

USM PREDICTION

North Texas is the favorite to win the Conference USA West and the Oct. 12 game in Hattiesburg may decide the division. I see USM coming up just shy of the C-USA title game, finishing 7-5 overall and 6-2 in C-USA play.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.
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