SEC opponents are nothing new for Southern Miss

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Southern Miss has long prided itself on the mantra of playing anyone, anytime, anywhere. It was even the football program’s marketing slogan for a while.

It’s time, once again, to prove it.

The Golden Eagles (2-1) will go on the road Saturday to play No. 10 Auburn (3-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s the sixth consecutive season in which Southern Miss has played a Southeastern Conference school, which almost seems enough to earn honorary membership in the league.

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Auburn is the seventh SEC school Southern Miss has faced since 2013. It has at least one game scheduled against SEC teams every season except one through 2025.

“At Southern Miss we play SEC teams every year. That’s part of our DNA,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “We know they’re an athletic football team and a good football team. We’re going to prepare the same way we always do. That’s what we always have done and always will do.”

Southern Miss will get a $1.7 million guaranteed payout for Saturday’s game, and $1.85 million when the teams play again in 2020. That is part of the more than $7 million the school will receive for playing road games against Power 5 conference opponents over the course of a roughly 10-year span.

While USM’s bottom line clearly benefits, Hopson said the program’s profile also gets a boost. The game with Auburn will be televised on the SEC Network and is one of the few times Southern Miss is on national television this season.

“It’s kind of who we are at Southern Miss, we’re always going to play these games. That does help with recruiting because kids want to know who you’re playing in non-conference,” Hopson said. “We have Alabama and Auburn for the next four years, next year we play Mississippi State. We’ve played LSU, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the last two years. We know what we’re getting into and we know the challenge that we have ahead of us.”

And, make no mistake, playing at Auburn will be a challenge. The Tigers are coming off a 34-3 rout of SEC rival Arkansas and are tied for second in the league with 13 sacks.
Southern Miss, meanwhile, beat Rice 40-22 in its Conference USA opener and is ranked ninth in the country in total defense.

“They’re an athletic team. They beat Arkansas 34-3, it could’ve been worse than that,” Hopson said of Auburn. “They’re a good football team, there’s no “ifs” or “buts” about that. We know we’ve got a good challenge and we know we’re playing a really good football team so we have to prepare. I always say this — I worry about one team, I worry about us. So we’ve got to get better from week three to week four and that’s our journey and that’s our climb.“

The Golden Eagles will also have to deal with a hostile environment in the 87,000-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s nothing new — Southern Miss has played the previous two seasons at Tennessee and LSU, both of which have larger stadiums — but it still takes some getting used to.

“We certainly will do a few different things with noise and we’ll practice and get in the stadium to get them used to that environment,” Hopson said. “It’s part of playing college football and most of our guys have played at Tennessee and Kentucky and they’ve been in those types of places. Auburn is no exception. As a player I played at Auburn, I know the environment that is at Jordan-Hare. We know it’s a big time environment. It’s what happens between those white lines. The crowd is great, the fans are great, but it’s what’s between that square box that’s going to matter Saturday at 3 p.m.”

• Saturday, 3 p.m.
• TV: SEC Network
• Radio: 105.1 FM

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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