Huskers Have History with USM
Southern Mississippi is coming off a 12-2 season and a bowl victory a year ago. They may not be from a BCS automatic qualifying conference, but the Golden Eagles have enough talent to mix it up with anyone. Historically speaking, they have a track record of playing major programs, at times playing well enough to pull the upset. Nebraska has a short but interesting series history with USM. Considering that history can give Husker fans an appreciation for the test facing NU in their opener on Saturday.
Southern Mississippi can be placed in a small group of non-BCS automatic conference schools that are truly in the "go anywhere, play anyone" mode of scheduling. Sure, Conference USA can be a quality league. But, the Golden Eagles non-conference foes in recent years have included Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina. When they play a school from a BCS conference that is not at the top of the heap, they are capable of winning road games. For example, they've beaten Kansas and Virginia in recent years. The Golden Eagles won't come to Lincoln and be intimidated. And, they won't come to Lincoln trying to keep it close.
If anyone needs more proof of their capability, just look at NU's short history against USM. In 1999, they took the Huskers to the limit in a 20-13 NU victory. Keep in mind, that was a 4th ranked Husker team that would go on to finish #2 in the polls. In 2003, Frank Solich took his Huskers on the road to Hattiesburg and got a 38-14 victory. A year later, Bill Callahan's first Husker squad lost to Southern Miss at home, 17-21. (Who can forget quarterback Joe Dailey running out of bounds on a 4th down play?) Granted, none of the players from those squads is taking the field on Saturday. But, as a program, Southern Miss has demonstrated they are more than capable of playing with NU.
If you need a comparison to a team on last year's schedule, consider Fresno State. They are a mid-level team with the same "play anyone" mentality as USM. Both squads have enough talent to compete to win their respective leagues and to push college football's big boys. Does anyone remember feeling comfortable during last year's game with Fresno State? Right. Husker fans can hope that example is the kind of thing Pelini and his staff use to keep players focused and motivated for this week.
Is it wise to pick a Golden Eagle victory? Probably not. So far, only one person is bold enough to do so. The betting public and the wise souls in the desert have NU as a 19 point favorite. Though, the lines early in the season can be a bit tricky as there is no current body of work to consider. While I doubt NU will drop its first home opener since 1985, they have an opponent that's good enough to test them. History says so.