Unfortunately, for Southern Miss and its fans, the 2012 season won't soon be forgotten.
How could anybody in Hattiesburg, Miss. forget the worst season in the storied history of the Golden Eagles' program? Losing all their games was a shock to Southern Miss, which was coming off arguably its best-ever season in 2011. That team went 12-2, and the 24-game swing is the worst in college football history.
"Honestly, I'm kind of in shock," Southern Miss center Austin Quattrochi said in post game interviews. "I really don't know what to say. … I don't think we're an 0-12 team. I've said that before. There's too much talent. The seniors have put way too much work in for this to happen."
Quattrochi was one of 18 seniors that played his last game for the Golden Eagles. Some have wondered if first-year coach Ellis Johnson will be back next year. He just finished his first year, and coaches are almost never canned after a single year, but after such a stunning turnaround and dramatically bad season, a reset might be an option.
"I have no idea," Johnson said when asked if he would return next fall. "I'm just more concerned about the overall improvement of the team. … It was up and down, up and down. By the time you look at it, this is Week 12 and we are no better than we were Week 2."
Part of Southern Miss' troubles can be blamed on injuries. The Golden Eagles had four starting quarterbacks this season (some of that was due to inconsistent play). They also lost all four starting tight ends to injury early in the season, and Johnson said he had planned for tight ends to play a significant role in his offense. Those losses crippled the offense.
Game Of The Year: UCF 38, Southern Miss 31, 2 OT-The Oct. 13 game against the potential Conference USA champion could have changed the course of the season, but a turnover in the second overtime cost Southern Miss. It was one of only three games decided by seven points or less. What made this game stand out was that a mentally beaten Golden Eagles team battled back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force two overtimes.
Player Of The Year: LB Jamie Collins - Few players made more plays in opponents' backfields than Collins. He spent much of the year ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. Collins has been, perhaps, the most consistent player for Southern Miss this year.
Fast Forward: The coaching situation is one to keep an eye on. Even though Ellis Johnson just finished his first year as head coach and coaches are rarely dropped after one year, this could be a different situation. Southern Miss has a proud program and an 0-12 season is unprecedented and sickening considering the team was 12-2 the year before. The Golden Eagles' most significant losses will be on offense and their best defensive player, Jamie Collins. Punter Peter Boehme could be challenging to replace, too.
Recruiting Trail: Southern Miss has a lot of offensive linemen to replace, as four of the five starters are seniors. The Golden Eagles also lose two key receivers, including kick returner Tracy Lampley. As inconsistent as the quarterback play was, the program might consider finding a juco quarterback. On defense, Southern Miss was a young team and played that way. The majority of their players on that side of the ball will have a chance to grow.
Quote To Note: "We have to take a lot of responsibility, especially me as a head coach. You want to see a team get better and better and we just never did do it."- Southern Miss head coach Ellis Johnson, after the loss that ended his first year at 0-12.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Players To Watch In 2013:
QB Anthony Alford - The freshman led the Golden Eagles in passing yards and played in all but three games. He ranked third on the team in rushing yardage. If he can improve his decision making, and mature, he could be the quarterback of the future. That is if he doesn't opt to play professional baseball full time.
DB Deron Wilson - He ranked second on the team in tackles and was the only player with a fumble return. With such a young defense, he could be looked to for leadership next year.
WR Dominique Sullivan - Despite the struggles of the team's offense, and especially the passing game, he had a breakout season, leading the Golden Eagles in receiving.
LB Jamie Collins - He is clearly the top NFL prospect on the team. Many consider Collins to be among the best outside linebackers available. He spent much of the year ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss.
OG Joe Duhon - It didn't show this year, but Southern Miss had solid linemen, and Duhon was among the leaders. If he does get selected, it likely will be in the late rounds.
OT Jason Weaver - One of the most consistent players for Southern Miss, he could be a late-round selection.
- QB Chris Campbell suffered neck and shoulder injuries that kept him out most of the season and may be cause for concern next year.