Precisely who the starting quarterback will be for Southern Mississippi has yet to be determined ahead of Saturday’s season opener against visiting Kentucky. Kwadra Griggs, a junior who redshirted last season, seemed to have a leg up on the competition before missing a week of practice with a finger injury, which allowed sophomore Keon Howard, last season’s backup, a chance to state his case to second-year head coach Jay Hopson.
The Wildcats and coach Mark Stoops know who their starting quarterback will be, but find themselves behind the eight ball before the season begins because of injuries at other positions. Senior wide receiver Dorian Baker will miss most if not all of the season with a fractured ankle and senior left tackle Cole Mosier was lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. The Wildcats were already looking at getting significant contributions from freshmen and other first-year players such as receivers Clevan Thomas, Isaiah Epps, Lynn Bowden and Josh Ali, defensive end Joshua Paschal, defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna and defensive back Cedrick Dort, Jr. and the list may grow larger. “Guys that either can’t do it or won’t do it are going to get passed up because we have a lot of depth and a lot of talent on this team. At least a lot more than we’ve had,” Stoops, who sports a 19-30 record with the Wildcats, told the media.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: Kentucky -10
ABOUT KENTUCKY (2016: 7-6): After facing competition in practice from Drew Barker, who opened last season as the starter at quarterback before going down with an injury, senior Stephen Johnson was listed atop the depth chart for the opener. Johnson took over in Week 3 of last season and led the Wildcats to a 7-4 record, including a victory over Louisville when he posted a season-high 338 yards and three touchdowns. Stoops will replace Mosier on the offensive line with the duo with sophomore Landon Young, a former five-start recruit, and senior Kyle Meadows.
ABOUT SOUTHERN MISS (2016: 7-6): Senior running back Ito Smith, who accounted for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground and 459 yards and two scores through the air, was named to the Conference-USA preseason first team. Senior receiver Allenzae Staggers, who caught 63 passes for 1,165 yards and seven scores, was bestowed with the same honor. Smith, whose name appears on the Maxwell Award and Doak Walker Award watch lists, is the only active back in the nation with more than 3,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards and has a chance to become the 10th back in NCAA history with 4,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving.
1. Mike Edwards, who led all SEC defensive backs with 100 tackles to go along with three interceptions last season, will see time at nickel back this season for the Wildcats.
2. Southern Miss enjoyed the largest comeback in school history by scoring the final 34 points in a 44-35 victory at Kentucky to open last season and snap a 13-game losing streak against the SEC.
3. Benny Snell, Jr., one of two 1,000-yard rushers (1,091) and the team leader with 13 rushing touchdowns last season, will get the starting nod at running back for Kentucky.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 34, Southern Miss 27