Time: 7:30 PM
Spread: KEN -7
M/L: KEN (-245), SM (+205)
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles finished last season 9-5 with a 7-1 mark in Conference USA play. The Eagles loss to Washington 44-31 at the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but the team returns six starters on both offense and defense, and will have a first-year coach in Jay Hopson who brings a 32-17 mark in his three years of collegiate coaching.
Hopson is hoping his team builds on a strong 2015 which saw the Eagles rank No. 13 in the nation in scoring while maintaining a top-50 defense.
Opening the season against Kentucky will still prove a challenge, as Southern Miss is one-TD underdogs to the Wildcats in Week 1 action. The team improved its scoring average by 20 points per game last season, an unfathomably great jump that can be built upon with returning starter Nick Mullens entering his senior year at QB. He is a four-year starter who earned Conference USA Offensive player of the year last season.
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Ito Smith had 1,876 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs in his sophomore season and returns as the team’s top ball carrier. The WRs have plenty of talent, including DJ Thompson who caught for 779 yards and six TDs last season as the Eagles averaged 329.7 passing yards per game, ranking No. 12 in the NCAA.
The WR corp loses both Mike Thomas and Casey Martin, but there are seven young talents who will all vie for time and catches. The OL returns three multi-year staters and the OC is new too, with Kentucky’s Shannon Dawson joining the fold. Even with the changes in leadership, this team will still put up massive scoring numbers, but it may not equal last season’s dominance.
It will be a transition season for Southern Miss, but it may not be a bad one. The team will win games, and it is favored to repeat in the lowly C-USA West Division. Western Kentucky remains its biggest conference foe, but kicking off the season against Kentucky and Savannah State is a fairly favorable start, notwithstanding that the Eagles are one TD underdogs in Week 1.
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The Kentucky Wildcats went 5-7 last season and failed to qualify for a Bowl. The team returns nine starters on offense, though, including three starting wide receivers and running back Boom Williams. The team went with a more pro-style offense last season run by Eddie Gran and Hinshaw, formerly of Cincinnati.
Tight end CJ Conrad and the four returning RBs should keep Kentucky competitive this season, though. Last year it got 1,855 yards on 312 carries from that quartet of backs, and all will factor largely this season as the team moves further away from the pass-heavy years of the Shannon Dawson era.
Stanley “Boom” Williams is the leader in the backfield, and Kentucky was unable to function well last season while he was sidelined. Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Sihiem King will all see plenty of touches when Williams is not called.
Drew Barker was named the starting QB, and he made a lot of key improvements that should help Kentucky’s offense this season, becoming more mature and a better leader. Behind him will be JUCO product Stephen Johnson, who looked good in spring.
The OL also returns four starters, but there is a lack of depth and the tackle position in particular is pretty thin. The WRs also have a near coach, but the unit is inconsistent. The experience helps some, but this is a group that managed just 209 yards per game last season while ranking No. 79 in the nation.
Kentucky’s schedule is favorable this season with eight home games and a few very winnable road games, but the team struggled badly last season in losing six of its final seven games.
Giving up a 17-point edge against Louisville remains the biggest source of disappointment from last season, and beginning this season right as Week 1 favorites is still no easy task. Southern Miss may be a small conference school, but it was one of the best last season.
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