Tuesday morning our athletic director posted to Facebook my favorite quote about Southern Miss. It’s from Mickey Spagnola’s Clarion Ledger article on the Sunday morning after the upset win over Alabama in 1982. The win ended Bear Bryan’t 57-game home sinning streak, and it was Bear Bryant’s final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“If you are going to war and if you get to pick first, choose Southern Mississippi. Always choose Southern Mississippi. No matter how hard you fight, these folks will fight harder.”
“I told them at the end of practice today, ‘If we’re going to do something a little different here that no other team has done, we’re going to have to take it an extra step. A lot of teams have won the conference championship here. A lot of teams have double digit wins. About the only thing they haven’t done is get in a BCS game. If you want to get in, you have to beat some teams that are better than us on paper and we’re going to have to quit losing to teams that we have better players than. The way to do it is get more consistent and disciplined with fundamentals and assignments and those types of things.’ I love the competitiveness and the team speed. We’ve got a lot to build on.”
Reading between the lines: You can’t beat Houston and lose to UAB in the same year and still demand respect and a seat at the BCS table.
[A Southern Miss web banner currently running on Mississippi new sites.]
Many Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans simply enjoy a giving a good ribbing toward Southern Miss fans because that’s what fans do.
There are the small minority who feel a little more strongly. They’s point to the 36,000 seat stadium, the association with Conference USA, the poor basketball facilities. But it’s getting harder and harder to mock what has and is being accomplished. No one can deny what the football program has done, especially over the last 18 years where every season resulted in a winning record, the school has been to 10-straight bowl games and won 5 conference championships (the most of any C-USA member). Tack on the consistent success of the baseball program and the resugence of the basketball program and Southern Miss’ “All We Do Is Win” motto stands for itself.
The Hattiesburg American recently interviewed defensive coordinator Tommy West and offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle:
“The good thing about here is this is a football place,” West said. “These guys came here to be good in football.
“I kind of see now there’s a great mentality here about winning – whether it’s baseball or basketball. It’s nice being a part of this. It reminds me a little bit of when I was at Clemson. They really don’t just expect to win, they expect to be really good. I feel that here.”
West admitted it was a very different scenario when he took over as head coach at Memphis in 2001.
“The bar was really low,” he said. “It was ‘Man, if we could ever just go to a bowl game,’ because they hadn’t been to one in 30-something years.
“We go to five bowls in our last seven years and get fired. So we moved the bar.”
If winning counted for anything, the Big East would have invited Southern Miss instead of Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston, the teams the Big East raided from Conference USA. Let’s put it this way: USM’s all-time record against those four schools stands at 58-27, including 40-21 against Memphis. In fact, USM’s record against all Big East teams stands 86-45-1. Yet, under current rules, the Big East champion gets an automatic BCS Bowl bid while USM plays in a conference that does not.
10. Southern Miss (12-2) Previous rank: 8
The Golden Eagles beat Nevada, 24-17, in the Hawaii Bowl. A stunning upset victory for the conference championship, a bowl-game win, and a free trip to Honolulu—how many teams had a better year than that, really?
Southern Miss’ Defense broke a 40 year-old FBS record in 2011 with 8 interceptions returned for touchdowns, meaning that of their 18 interceptions (tied for 5th in FBS) almost half became a Pick 6. However, these stats only speak to part of the craziness that was the 2011 season. (Why “crazy”? Because, really, who loses to UAB only to turn around and defeat #6 Houston two weeks later?)
Overall, 25 different Southern Miss players scored touchdowns in 2011. I’ve cataloged the Defensive and Special Teams touchdowns below. On a “Crazy Scale” (official NCAA scientific terminology?) of 1-5… 1 being “Kinda Crazy, Bro” and 5 being “Very Crazy, Bro”… I’ve rated the following Southern Miss Defense and Special Teams stats from their 14 games of 2011.
The most mind-blowing (are mid-majors allowed to use that term?) game of all has to be the East Carolina, who was at one point down 21-7 to USM without Southern Miss having scored a single Offensive touchdown.
Individual games stats and videos below.
8 interceptions returned for TDs (FBS record) [Crazy scale of 5]
2 fake punts out of their own end zone for gains of 29 and 31-yards respectively [Crazy scale of 5]
3 blocked punts for TDs [Crazy scale of 4]
1 blocked FG returned for a TD [Crazy scale of 2]
1 fake field goal for a TD [Crazy scale of 1]
1 fumble returned for a TD [Crazy scale of 1]
1 punt returned for a TD [Crazy scale of 1]
Southern Miss vs SELA
Korey Williams 60-yard interception return for TD
Octavius Thomas 6-yard interception return for TD
Southern Miss vs Virginia
Danny Hrapmann fake Punt out of own end zone for 31-yard gain
Southern Miss vs Rice
Marquese Wheaton 96-yard fumble return for TD
Southern Miss at Navy
Marquese Wheaton 79-yard blocked field goal return for TD
Southern Miss vs SMU
Marquese Wheaton 41-yard interception return for TD
Southern Miss at East Carolina
Jamie Collins 97-yard interception return for TD
Tracy Lampley 60-yard punt return for TD
Emmanuel Johnson 15-yard blocked punt return for TD
Deron Wilson 79-yard interception return for TD
Southern Miss at UAB
Fake FG for TD – Ryan Hanks 10 yd pass from Peter Boehme
Southern Miss vs Memphis
Deron Wilson 35-yard interception return
Kendrick Presley 100-yard interception return for TD
Southern Miss at Houston [C-USA Championship Game]
Furious Bradley 11-yard blocked punt return
Ronnie Thornton 26-yard interception return
Southern Miss vs Nevada [Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl]
Tray Becton-Martin 0-yard blocked punt for TD
Danny Hrapmann fake Punt out of own end zone for 29-yard gain
Entering as a freshman in 1999, I barely missed being on campus with West Virginia’s current head coach Dana Holgorsen. I parked next to the stadium every day while I was an employee from 2003-2005, and would give a pretty penny to spot Dana pulling weeds next to my Pontiac Grand Am.
Holgorsen had worked at Valdosta State for three years when Mississippi College called Mumme in 1996 and wanted to hire someone from his staff to help implement his Air Raid offense. Mumme recommended Holgorsen and told him to take the job, which was to coach quarterbacks, wide receivers and special teams.
When Mumme became coach at Kentucky a year later, he again took Leach with him and wanted to hire Holgorsen but never did. When Leach left the Wildcats in 1999 to become offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, he too wanted Holgorsen to go with him but couldn’t work it out.
While Mumme and Leach had hit the big time of college football, Holgorsen continued to toil in obscurity at Mississippi College and then at Wingate University, where he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers in 1999, another job for which Mumme had recommended him. At times, he wondered about his future, especially when he and the other football coaches at Mississippi College had to plant shrubs and flowers around campus during the summers.
“That was bulls**t,” Holgorsen says. “I was pissed.”