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For once, nowhere for Southern Miss to go but up


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HATTIESBURG, Miss. — As the news got out that Todd Monken had taken the job in December, the texts began rolling in: Congrats. Good luck. You'll do well. Stuff like that. Several of them, though, ended with a cryptic string:


"I'm trying to figure out the code," Monken recalled. "Nowadays with text messaging, people come up with all sorts of stuff you can't figure out, right? Little letters, 'CUL8R,' and you're trying to figure out what it means, you know?"

He figured, correctly, the first part was "Southern Miss." But after that? No clue. "I thought it might be Terri, Todd and Travis," he said, referring to himself, his wife and his son. Finally, someone let him in on his new school's catchphrase: "Southern Miss To The Top" (to end a conversation, you say "Southern Miss," the other guy answers "To the top!"). In foot-high wooden letters, the optimistic abbreviation sits on a shelf high in Monken's new office overlooking an end zone at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The display is among the few leftovers from the previous occupant, and it seems appropriate.

As Monken heads into his first season as the Golden Eagles' head coach, the top seems a long way off. But up might be the only way they can go.

"I really believe we can be a good football team," he said, adding "there are no barriers" to success at Southern Miss.


Until last year, no one would disagree. But in 2012 – and this still seems hard to believe, for folks around here and anyone who's followed college football in recent years – Southern Miss hit rock bottom. It takes some doing, losing 'em all. Especially a year after 12-2. After 18 consecutive winning seasons. With a program that had developed a reputation as a mid-level bunch the big boys do not want to play.


"I think we shocked everybody," senior receiver Dominique Sullivan said.

"It was just a disaster," said longtime booster Ben Willoughby, "all the way around."

Willoughby had just finished lunch last week at Po-Boy Express, just across U.S. 49 from the stadium. Retired for 20 years now, he was once a fund-raiser for the athletic department. Now, he's part of a small but devoted and proud fan base. Tucked into the Mississippi pine belt in the heart of SEC country, Southern Miss has carved a nice little niche through the years.

"We're a mid-level D-I (FBS) team," Willoughby said. "We're not gonna be able to compete with (larger programs) on recruits, but they don't let their guard down against us on the field."

"They're nasty," said senior linebacker Allen Howze, who grew up a little more than an hour away, in Ocean Springs, Miss., of the program's reputation through the years. "They win games."

That's been the case, anyway. Until last year, when Southern Miss became one of only four FBS programs to go from double-digit victories to double-digit losses in consecutive seasons (the others: UTEP in 1988-89, Ball State and Rice in 2008-09). Three of the four came after a coaching change. But only the Golden Eagles went winless.

read more: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/cusa/2013/08/12/southern-mississippi-rebounding-from-winless-season/2642923/

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