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Non Conference Snapshots: Southern Miss.

Game three of the non conference slate sees the Kansas Jayhawks head South to Hattiesburg Mississippi to wrap up a home and home with the Golden Eagles.

USM represented the Jayhawks stiffest non conference test in 2009 as the Jayhawks held on to a narrow victory backed by a strong defensive effort down the stretch. 

This season Kansas will head into this game already having faced a stiff test in Georgia Tech, but the Golden Eagles will represent the first opportunity to see a the new regime in hostile territory.

A year ago Southern Mississippi was a team with plenty of offensive weapons, a seasoned offensive line and relatively high expectations.  Injuries and a few road bumps along the way led to a 7-6 overall record including a loss in the New Orleans Bowl to Middle Tennessee State.

Still, the USM offense finished 18th in the nation in scoring in 2009 as Larry Fedora, a fairly popular coaching candidate among Kansas fans during Manginogate, continued to hang his hat on creating a potent offensive football team.

In 2010 however, things may change.  The Golden Eagles return just 3 starters on offense and will have to replace 4 of 5 on the offensive line.  They do however return two major players in DeAndre Brown and a quarterback that gave Kansas a bit of trouble, Austin Davis. 

Davis spent much of 2009 following the Kansas contest on the sidelines with a broken foot and his return should provide some much needed experience to an offense with plenty of new faces.   Also in the backfield, USM will look to replace the loss of their all time leading rusher in Damion Fletcher with senior to be VJ Floyd.

On the subject of DeAndre Brown and his recent legal woes, I wouldn't count on any serious repercussions based on the severity of the incident.   Brown might see a minor suspension or none at all, but by game three the 6'6" receiver that could be one of the best in the country should be on the field to face the Jayhawks.

Despite the uncertainty on the offensive end, the Golden Eagles return 9 on the defensive side of the ball including the entire front seven.  For a Jayhawk team that claims to want to run more, this may present some challenges.

A year ago the Southern Mississippi defense was a middle of the pack conference USA group.  With more experience and Fedora entering year three with USM, perhaps this is the season that the defense begins to catch up with the offense in terms of effectiveness. 

Middle Linebacker Korey Williams would be the leader of the group, while Anthony Gray is a player on the line that presents the biggest threat.  

In general Fedora has assemble a defense with good speed, and versatility at the second level which could make for a stiff test to a new look Kansas offense. 

At the end of the day, when talking about Southern Mississippi, you're talking about the team picked to win Conference USA.  The Golden Eagles have consistently been at or near the top of the conference and over the last two seasons they have been working to get back to that spot. 

A home game against a Big 12 opponent will be an opportunity for USM to put an early stamp on the season especially if they can also find a way to make something happen at South Carolina in week one. 

For Kansas to come away with a victory they will need to take advantage of a revamped offensive line at USM and hope that the defense in Hattiesburg is still lagging a few steps behind the Larry Fedora offense of the last few years. 

At the end of the season last year I spoke with one of the Kansas players who described the Golden Eagles as "legit" stating they were the first opponent where they noticed an uptick in the competition level.   This particular player was of the opinion that USM was on par with several Big 12 opponents faced during the conference season in terms of physicality and talent on the field. 

Fortunately Kansas will have faced a high caliber opponent in Georgia Tech this year before heading to USM, but the Golden Eagles will once again be a big first test, this year the first road test.