I am continuing my look at potential BCS busters from Conference USA, a league that would love nothing more than to get one of its teams into one of the marquee games. Southern Miss has had 17 straight winning seasons, a level of success unmatched by anyone in C-USA. But the Golden Eagles have not won a conference championship since 2003 and last played in the C-USA title game in 2006. This season could be an outstanding one for the Golden Eagles based on their excellent returning quarterback and a very manageable schedule.
Why they have a shot: Quarterback Austin Davis had his best year last season with 3,103 yards passing and 452 yards rushing, proving to be comfortable running the spread offense. He is on pace to set school career marks for passing yards and passing touchdowns. He should be even better headed into his senior year, especially with a nice compliment of running backs returning in Kendrick Hardy, Desmond Johnson and Tracy Lampley. Top receiver Kelvin Bolden also returns, along with Quentin Pierce. The schedule plays into the Golden Eagles' favor, with their toughest nonconference games at Virginia and home to Navy. Plus, they get UCF and SMU at home. The most difficult C-USA road game is at East Carolina.
Why they won't make it: Southern Miss has not quite been able to get back into the driver's seat in the East in three seasons under Larry Fedora. The offense has looked good, but the defense has sputtered at times with breakdowns in crucial situations. In four of its five losses last season, Southern Miss gave up 40-plus points. The Golden Eagles beat eventual league champion UCF last season, but lost three conference games by a combined eight points and finished in a tie for second. They will have a new defensive scheme this season under new coordinator Dan Disch -- the 4-2-5 that TCU and Boise State run. Fedora was pleased with the progress the defense showed this spring, but there are sometimes growing pains when learning a new system.