By Steve Barnes
Last week could have been the bright spot on the Southern Mississippi schedule for the 2013 season — it was a bye.
The Golden Eagles are 0-5 on the year with two losses coming against Texas State and Florida International. USM has lost 17 in a row dating back to a winless 2012. The rest of the slate this season features games against East Carolina, North Texas, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and UAB. Not a lot of chances there to avoid another winless season.
That is a long time to go without winning a game. That is a long time to go without doing a lot of things.
My buddy Rick Cleveland of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame brought up some cool facts about the streak.
Since Southern Miss last won a game:
• 662 days have passed as of Oct. 15.
• We have celebrated Christmas twice.
• USM has lost 17 consecutive football games.
• USM has had three presidents, three athletic directors and two football coaches.
• USM has allowed 636 points while scoring only 261 (an average score of 40-16).
• USM has played seven quarterbacks.
• The stock market has risen nearly 4,000 points (you needed a little good news didn't you?)
That seems to be bad enough, but that is just what has happened in Hattiesburg. Of course I had to add a few things to the list to bring it into further perspective:
• Alabama has won 18 games and two national championships.
• A Kardashian bred.
• Twerking became a word.
• Wes Welker caught touchdown passes from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
• James Patterson published more than 20 books.
• Germany has had two presidents.
• Baylor has scored 40 or more points in a game 15 times. (Southern hasn't done it once.)
• A new heir to the British throne was born.
• There have been 20 major league no-hitters.
• Thanks to the Navy’s Seal Team Six, Osama bin Laden is gone.
• Wrestling was dropped as an Olympic sport.
• Wrestling was added as an Olympic sport.
• Tim Tebow was on the Broncos’ roster, the Jets’ roster and nobody’s roster.
So, just what happened to Southern Miss?
It wasn’t that long ago the Golden Eagles were a polar opposite of themselves. USM was the 2011 Conference USA champions and beat Nevada in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl. But then-coach Larry Fedora bolted to North Carolina.
Enter Ellis Johnson. After a winless season, exit Ellis Johnson.
Enter former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken. To quote Herman’s Hermits, “Second verse, same as the first.”
It seems this has been the Southern Miss football story. Conference champs one year, no wins the next. The expectations can be extremely high at the school or as low as Miley Cyrus’ self-esteem.
Those expectations from a fan base that is fickle at best seem to always be a tad out of reach. Many of those fans and boosters believe USM to be on par historically in football with Notre Dame. Ah, Southern is the Golden Eagles, not the Golden Domers.
In 1987, I attended a game at USM. A friend was a huge Florida State fan and he could not get tickets to a Seminoles game in Tallahassee that season. Instead, we made the short drive to Hattiesburg and bought 40-yard line tickets an hour before the game. It was easy to see why they were available: FSU 61, USM 10.
Sure, USM has pulled quite a few upsets in its history, but it also has laid many more eggs. Consider the greatest player ever to play there, Brett Favre. Prior to him, the greatest Southern Miss football player was Ray Guy — a punter.
I watched Southern Miss take on Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. A good friend of mine is a USM graduate and I called her during the game. She wasn’t watching it. She was at a party waiting for the Ole Miss game to come on TV. That pretty much sums up the interest in USM football these days.
Against Arkansas, I noticed a few things about the Golden Eagles. First, they were overmatched athletically. Second, they don’t play with a lot of discipline. Finally, they acted as if they were ready to get on the bus and head home.
How can a team win a game when it doesn’t seem to want to be there?
It wasn’t always like that in Hattiesburg. Once they had a coach who could not have been a better pick from central casting to head the football program. I once had the opportunity to interview then-USM coach Jeff Bower. He was a class act and he loved Southern Mississippi. But some big-money boosters wanted him out of town and they got their way so Southern Miss could take "the next step."
Who knew the next step would be a gigantic one — backwards. I'll bet those boosters miss Bower now.
But then again, no one is there to notice anyway.