Southern Miss

5 to watch: Key Southern Miss players in Saturday's Mississippi State game

Southern Miss kicks off the football season at 9 p.m. Saturday with a big home game against in-state rival Mississippi State.

Here are five USM players who have to rise the occasion:

1. QB Nick Mullens: The game was almost over before it got going for Southern Miss last season with Mullens being intercepted on the third play from scrimmage last season at Mississippi State. Mullens has to be much more calm and collected in friendly territory at Roberts Stadium. It would be surprising if Mullens is not the starter at quarterback Saturday.

2. TE Taylor Marini: USM didn’t even have a tight end in its offense a year ago. Marini, a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln CC, has a chance to be an immediate impact player for the Golden Eagles. MSU will have to take him into account as a physical presence in the passing game. 

3. LB Anthony Swain: At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Swain is a badly needed addition to the Southern Miss defense at linebacker. The Auburn transfer is listed second string behind Brian Anderson at middle linebacker, but Swain should play a large role. With Swain on the field, Dak Prescott may be a little less likely to take off running with the ball. 

4. S D’Nerius Antoine: The 6-foot, 215-pound Antoine brings a physical presence to the USM secondary and he could play a major role in run support.  

5. RB Ito Smith: It is absolutely essential that USM run the ball on Saturday night. When the Golden Eagles ran it well last season, it was mostly Smith leading the way. He needs to take a big step forward as a sophomore. Smith ran 136 times for 536 yards and two touchdowns last year.