Patrick Magee

Southern Miss receiving corps should be a strength in 2017

Receiver Isaiah Jones gains a first down before he is tackled by Racheem Boothe during the 2017 Black & Gold spring game.
Receiver Isaiah Jones gains a first down before he is tackled by Racheem Boothe during the 2017 Black & Gold spring game. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

If Southern Miss settles on a quarterback who can keep the offense running this season, there won't be a lack of targets in the passing game.

Senior Allenzae Staggers became the latest Golden Eagle to land on a watch list Tuesday, earning a spot on the list for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top receiver.

Staggers is coming off a breakout junior campaign of 63 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns. It doesn't matter if it's redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs or sophomore Keon Howard behind center this season, Staggers will be the main target at receiver.

The list of options behind Staggers isn't a short one.

D.J. Thompson, who graduated after catching 47 passes a year ago, is the only player lost from last year's team that ranked among the team's top seven receivers.

Staggers will lead a corps that includes three players who received plenty of starting experience a year ago, including redshirt junior Korey Robertson and senior Isaiah Jones.

Jones, who caught 20 passes for 331 yards and two scores last year, appeared to overcome his struggles with drops during spring practice. Robertson has proven steady when given opportunities, catching 37 passes for 437 yards and three touchdowns last season.

USM also returns one of the better tight ends in Conference USA in redshirt senior Julian Allen, who may get more passes thrown his way after pulling in 19 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown last year.

Depth in the receiving corps will come from players like redshirt sophomore Jordan Mitchell, who sat out last year with an injury following a promising freshman campaign, and Chase Whitehead, who earned significant playing time late last year and caught 18 passes for 286 yards and two scores.

USM will also mix in some first-year players that have shown plenty of potential including Long's Trevor Terry, a sophomore transfer from Jones County Junior College, and speedy redshirt freshman Quez Watkins.

Griggs appeared to have the edge on Howard at quarterback to end the spring, but Howard will have his shot to make a case this fall.

Preseason predictions

The Conference USA preseason prognostications are in and Southern Miss has been picked to finish third in the West Division by league media.

C-USA announced the results of the media poll on Tuesday. Louisiana Tech is the heavy favorite to win the division with 20 first-place votes while UTSA was handed second place with seven votes.

USM, which received one first-place vote, was followed by No. 4 North Texas, No. 5 Rice, No, 6 UTEP and No. 7 UAB, which is playing its first season of football since 2014.

Western Kentucky is the favorite in the East Division with 20 first-place votes. Middle Tennessee lands in second place with four first-place votes and Old Dominion takes third with three votes. Marshall, which receives one first-place vote, is fourth, followed by No. 5 Florida Atlantic, No. 6 FIU and No. 7 Charlotte.

If the media's predictions hold true, the C-USA title game would be a repeat of last year's championship game won 58-44 by WKU.

Beach Bash is Friday

The Southern Miss Beach Bash, which features USM head coach Jay Hopson and select players, is set for 6 p.m. on Friday at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Biloxi.

Admission to Beach Bash is $15 per person and $7 for children ages 12 and under. The ticket price includes dinner and a cash bar will be available.

Tickets can be purchased online at SouthernMissAlumni.com/BeachBash2017.

All proceeds from the event, which is sponsored by Keesler Federal Credit Union, benefit the Gulf Coast Metro Alumni Chapter Scholarship Fund.

The Golden Eagles will kick off the 2017 season with a 3 p.m. home game on Sept. 2 against Kentucky.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Beach Bash

What: Southern Miss Beach Bash

When: 6 p.m., Friday

Where: Hard Rock Casino and Hotel, Biloxi

Tickets: $15 per person, $7 for children ages 12 and under

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