College Football Week 1 Odds & Pick for Southern Miss vs. South Alabama: The Golden Eagles Have Slight Edge Over Jaguars (Sept. 4)
Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Trey Lowe.
- Southern Miss and South Alabama start their 2021 seasons today.
- Both teams welcome new head coaches, with the visiting Golden Eagles and Will Hall debuting against Kane Wommack and the Jaguars.
- Check out Mike Ianniello's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.
Southern Miss vs. South Alabama Odds
It was a game of musical chairs in the Southern Mississippi head-coaching office last season with four different head coaches in just a three-month span.
Jay Hopson had served as the head coach since 2016 but resigned from his position just one game into the 2020 season. It was a 32-21 loss to this South Alabama team that served as Hopson’s final game and began a revolving door in Hattiesburg.
When Hopson left, offensive coordinator Scotty Walden was named interim head coach, but after just four games, he left for the head coaching gig at Austin Peay. Up next it was defensive coordinator Tim Billings who was elevated to the head boss, and he coached the final five games of the season.
Following the season, on December 2, 2020, Will Hall was named the next head coach of Southern Mississippi following two years as the offensive coordinator of Tulane.
South Alabama will also be working in a new head coach after Steve Campbell was fired after three seasons, amassing just a 9-26 record. The Jaguars tabbed Kane Wommack as their new head coach after serving two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Indiana. Wommack returns to Mobile after spending two seasons as the South Alabama defensive coordinator in 2016-17.
It is a fitting first game as the top dog for Wommack, as he is a graduate of Southern Mississippi and helped them to three straight bowl appearances as a tight end for the Eagles.
If you love the Group of Five conferences, this is sneakily an interesting matchup. This Conference USA vs. Sun Belt matchup is between two teams that went a combined 7-14, but both are beginning new eras and looking to get off to a good start under new staffs.
This game probably doesn’t matter in the national landscape of college football, but you can bet it and it’s important to these two fan bases to get off to a strong start.
It is hard to take away much from Southern Mississippi last season. They had three different head coaches and multiple games canceled due to COVID issues.
The Golden Eagles picked up a trio of wins against North Texas, North Alabama and FAU but dropped their other seven games.
Will Hall takes over as head coach after serving as the OC for Tulane. He will also serve as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The opening loss against South Alabama last year is what kicked off all the chaos, but Hall should provide some stability.
Golden Eagles Offense
The offense started the year pretty solidly, but it trickled off throughout the season. The Golden Eagle bring back most of their starters on offense but will need to replace their quarterback.
Jack Abraham began the year as the starting quarterback and played five games before suffering a concussion. After his injury he decided to opt out of the remainder of the season, and he then transferred to Mississippi State this offseason.
Backup quarterback Tate Whatley is also gone, leaving Trey Lowe as the starting quarterback for 2021.
Lowe transferred to Southern Miss after two seasons at West Virginia. He threw just four passes in his Mountaineers career. Last season he played in four games, making three starts at the end of the year.
In the Golden Eagles’ season finale against FAU, Lowe had his best game, going 13-for-19 for 209 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. He added 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well.
Even the most casual football fan should recognize the Southern Miss running back: second-year freshman Frank Gore Jr. His dad is NFL running back Frank Gore, who is currently third all-time in career rushing yards in NFL history.
Unlike his dad, who is built like a truck and known more for running defenders over, Gore is a smaller, quicker back. He rushed for 708 yards and two touchdowns last season. Senior running back Kevin Perkins was more the big-bodied, goal-line back, rushing for seven touchdowns. With Perkins gone, expect Gore’s rushing touchdown total to go up in his second season.
FRANK GORE JR. JUST DOING GORE FAMILY THINGS!!
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) December 10, 2020
The entire offensive line is back this year, and they are massive up front, with a pair of 6-foot-5 tackles helping to set the edge for the running backs.
The running game should be the strength here, especially with Hall at the helm. His Tulane team was 30th in the country in Rushing Success last season.
Rushing the ball will clearly be leaned on here, but the passing game does have potential if Lowe is able to make plays with his arm. They bring back leading receiver and deep threat Jason Brownlee as well as Antoine Robinson and Demarcus Jones who are productive underneath.
Golden Eagles Defense
The biggest question for the Golden Eagles defense is will Hayes Maples be 100%. The linebacker earned second-team All-Conference USA honors and led the team with 91 tackles last season but suffered a knee injury in the spring. He is expected to play, but might not be 100%.
Maples is joined by Santrell Latham and Swayze Bozeman to join what should be a really solid linebacker group.
It was the linebackers who were able to create most of the pressure last season as the team struggled to get into the backfield last year. They ranked just 104th in Havoc.
On top of that, Jacques Turner who was great at getting pressure in 2019, transferred to Louisville after missing last season.
Star safety Ky’el Hemby is gone, but Natrone Brooks is back as well as both cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong comes to Southern Miss after serving as the linebackers coach at Louisiana. He is expected to play more man-to-man defense.
The secondary should be solid, but nothing on the defense is going to work if they aren’t able to generate more of a pass rush this season.
South Alabama went just 4-7 last season, but that was good enough for second in the down Sun Belt West. It started the year with a win against Southern Miss and picked up wins against all the teams below them in the division standings, against Texas State, UL-Monroe and Arkansas State.
Kane Wommack will begin his first head-coaching season, after two years as the Indiana defensive coordinator. Wommack will have an entire new staff with him. Major Applewhite will serve as offensive coordinator after two years as an analyst with Alabama. Prior to that he was the head coach at Houston for two seasons.
Wommack tabbed Corey Batoon as his defensive coordinator. He comes to Southern Miss from Liberty, spending a year as the safeties coach. He previously spent two seasons as Hawaii’s defensive coordinator.
The Jaguars bring back a bunch of production, returning 81% on offense according to TARP and 80% on defense.
The big story in Mobile this offseason is the addition of Jake Bentley, who is somehow still in college and set to suit up for his sixth season.
Bentley has now played for three teams, under three different U.S. presidents. Bentley spent four seasons at South Carolina and played last year for Utah. He has played 39 career games, throwing for 8,409 yards with 61 touchdowns and 38 interceptions.
He will have a great target to throw the ball to in All-Conference wide receiver Jalen Tolbert. One of the best wideouts in the Group of Five and a legit NFL prospect, Tolbert was second in the Sun Belt last season, totaling 1,085 yards and eight touchdowns.
Running back Terrion Avery was solid in a backup role last season and will need to carry the load this year with last year’s leading rusher Carlos Davis getting suspended indefinitely following drug charges.
The biggest need for improvement for the Jaguars is with the offensive line. They return just two starters up front for a unit that ranked 115th in Havoc allowed, 107th in Line Yards, and 121st in Sack Rate.
The defense loses leading tackler Riley Cole but brings back 80% of its TARP. The Jaguars defense looked good early in the season but wore down as the year went on. With Wommack’s defensive background, this unit should take a big step forward this season.
Both Wommack and Batoon have extensive experience running a 4-2-5 defense and should gel together quickly. Second leading tackler Nick Mobley is back to secure up the inside linebacker spot though.
Run defense was definitely where this Jags defense was stronger last year. They held Southern Miss to just 95 yards on the ground in their 2020 meeting.
Pass defense was a different story. South Alabama was a miserable 122nd in Passing Success Rate. The front seven failing to create any pass rush really left the secondary out to dry. The Jaguars had just a 61.1 Coverage Rate according to PFF, 87th in the country.
The new 4-2-5 defense should put the back seven in a better position and is designed to generate more turnovers, which the Jags struggled with in 2020.
Keith Gallmon is a really good safety and should be allowed to roam around like a centerfielder back in this new defense.
Southern Miss vs. South Alabama Matchup Analysis
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Southern Miss Offense vs. South Alabama Defense
South Alabama Offense vs. Southern Miss Defense
Pace of Play / Other
Southern Miss vs. South Alabama Betting Pick
This line opened with Southern Mississippi a small favorite at around -1.5, but South Alabama has taken money and swung the line to the other side with the Jaguars now sitting as the favorites.
My guess is people see the name Jake Bentley and recognize a guy who has been in college forever and used to throw passes to Hayden Hurst and Deebo Samuel at South Carolina.
However, I think the original line was more accurate, giving Southern Miss a slight edge. Southern Miss should have an advantage in the trenches on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, which is always huge in this coin-flip type matchup.
The South Alabama defense will be better against the pass under Wommack, but the Golden Eagles still have the ability to run the ball with Gore behind this big veteran offensive line.
Lowe is a dual-threat quarterback with the ability to use his legs and keep the chains moving for Southern Mississippi.
South Alabama handed Southern Miss a Week 1 loss last season that kick-started the chaotic torpedoing of its season. Look for the Golden Eagles to exact revenge this season and squeeze out a close win.