Nebraska will begin the 2012 season with arguably their toughest opener since 2003 when the Huskers faced Oklahoma State.
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will come into Lincoln fresh off a 12 win season in 2011 that was capped off by a Conference USA championship game victory over previously undefeated Houston.
Over the next few weeks HuskerOnline.com will go in-depth on NU's 12 opponents coming out of the spring and what their strengths and weaknesses are heading into the 2012 season. Today we caught up with BigGoldNation.com publisher Lanny Mixon to get his thoughts and perceptive on the Golden Eagles coming out of the spring.
What are the expectations for Southern Miss coming out of spring after such a great season in 2011?
"I think the expectations are still pretty high. A lot of people are still expecting Southern Miss to have a solid program in 2012. There are really not a lot of reasons to think that they won't. The biggest question will be at the quarterback position. They graduated a four-year starter that had a tremendous amount of success and you've got some guys behind him at the position that really haven't seen any live bullets."
Talk about Ellis Johnson. What has he brought Hattiesburg and what type of changes can we expect to see from him?
"The biggest thing I think you are going to see is an increased level of physicality. The offense and the defense that was run under Larry Fedora was very much a finesse game. I think you are going to see a little bit more of a return to the physical and powerful football that Southern Miss has been known for, especially on defense for a long, long time.
"Johnson is the beneficiary of probably one of Fedora's biggest attributes, and that's his ability to recruit. Southern Miss has got a solid, talented group of players that Johnson has inherited. (Johnson) is in the process of putting his own stamp on it. There are some changes as far as philosophy on defense and they are going to probably run the ball a little bit more this year. That may have more to do with personnel than it has to do with anything else. They've got a pretty deep and talented group of wide receivers, but they are unproven at the quarterback position. That could dictate an offensive change just as much as anything else."
Who is the top returner right now for Southern Miss coming out of the spring on offense and defense?
"On offense that's real easy. It's going to be a slot receiver and slot running back named Tracy Lampley who is just a phenomenal athlete. He can hurt you running the ball, he can hurt you catching the ball and he's a great return man. He does a little bit everything for Southern Miss. Expect him to be lined up in the slot a lot more in this Ellis Johnson offense.
"On defense probably one of the best players in school history is Jamie Collins. He's a 6-foot-4, 240 pound hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end. He plays the bandit position, which is a stand up type defensive end or outside linebacker. He has a huge motor and he's very, very physical and very, very talented. He's 240 pounds with close to a 40 inch vertical leap. He's one of the most phenomenal athletes you'll see in college football this year."
What's your biggest concern coming out of spring ball?
"It has to be quarterback right now. They have some guys that put up some great numbers in high school and have the résumé's you want to see, but at the same time there's going to be some growing pains as they transition into whoever wins the starting position is going to be a first time starter seeing the first significant action of their collegiate career. It's down between a redshirt sophomore named Chris Campbell who was the No. 2 guy last season, but got hurt during fall camp and missed the entire year.
"Then the other guy is redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd, who put up some eye-popping numbers in a very competitive league in Northern California where they won the championship. Once again though he is a guy that hasn't seen any snaps at the Division I level."
What will a game like this mean to Southern Miss just to open things up against a team like Nebraska?
"What it means more than anything is it's a measuring stick. Win or lose we are going to know a whole a lot more about Southern Miss and what they are going to have to do to get to where they need to be. This is a team that will come into that opener with a lot of confidence. They won 12 games last year and finished the year in the top 25 with a lot of players returning. This is a team that kind of has that attitude that 'we are coming to play. They may beat us, but we are coming to play.'"
There's been talk about next year's game being played in New Orleans. What do you know about that at this point?
"I think it's becoming closer to a reality every single day. There are some things and final details that are going to have to be worked out before that deal is inked to move that game. The biggest one is to make sure the boosters who own suites at Southern Miss are given a suite in the Super Dome for basically just the price of their tickets, because they have already paid for their suites in Hattiesburg and they were guaranteed that they will have six home games a year to use those suites.
"Southern Miss just has to ensure those folks are going to have access to a suite in the Super Dome for that game. I think that's probably the detail that's being worked out now. The Super Dome has 155 suites, so Southern Miss is only going to need about 35 of them. I don't think there's going to be any huge problem getting those suites. I think it's all the process of working out the final details at this point. I really expect the game to be played in New Orleans. For the money Southern Miss is being offered to move that game is pretty phenomenal."
What is the realistic win-loss expectations for Southern Miss in year one under Johnson?
"The out of conference and the non-conference schedule is a lot tougher than a year ago, but I do think most Southern Miss fans are pretty realistic and they expect to be back in the Conference USA Championship game. You get back to the conference championship game and anything can happen.