What to Expect in the Opener
How often do you see a new head coach with a new starting quarterback walk into the first game of the season in Lincoln and walk out with a victory? The answer is probably something pretty close to never. That's the task that will face Southern Mississippi. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles face a Cornhusker team that features an entrenched head coach and a two-year starter at quarterback. A year ago, NU might have been a modest favorite in this contest at home. This year, it should be closer to two touchdowns.
Graduation not only cost USM their starting quarterback, but also their top two receivers. Their top running back will likely sit this year after a knee injury in the bowl game. Meanwhile, Nebraska brings back a dark horse Heisman candidate at running back and the top receiver.
Golden Eagle head coach Ellis Johnson built his career as a defensive coordinator, so it will likely be the defense that USM will hang its hopes on. Johnson was the architect of South Carolina's defense a year ago. While that might be a sobering thought to Husker fans, Johnson won't inherit the talent he had on defense with the Gamecocks.
Southern Miss quarterback Arsenio Favor will need to outplay Taylor Martinez and perhaps also Rex Burkhead in order for the Golden Eagles to have a chance in this one. Favor is a big dual-threat quarterback, similar in size to Minnesota's MarQueis Gray. Gray was a four-star recruit out of high school, sought after by schools like Oregon, Michigan State and Iowa. Favor chose Southern Mississippi over Western Kentucky and Arkansas State. Yet he'll need to outperform Gray against the Big Red to avoid a similar one-sided defeat, like the 41-14 pasting suffered by the Golden Gophers.
Johnson's troops may have a bit more fight, but a 28-14 loss might be the best that USM can hope for. Traditionally, these home openers have gone quite well for Nebraska and quite poorly for the opposition, even teams that were ranked the year before. There's not much reason to think that things will be different this time around. Still, facing any FBS team coming off of a 12-2 season is a more dramatic way to open the season than what Bo Pelini's teams have seen up to now.