South Alabama - on paper - appears absolutely loaded. Like AP Top 25 loaded. Like potential New Year's Six bowl game loaded.
If this program measures up the way it seems it will? It will be a big-time national factor in 2023.
South Alabama 2023 Preview
THE CONF.: Sun Belt Conference (West Division)
2022 RECORD: 10-3 (lost to Western Kentucky in New Orleans Bowl)
CONF. FINISH: 7-1 (tied Troy for West Division title)
HEAD COACH: Kane Wommack (3rd year, 15-10; 3rd overall)
ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: LaDamian Webb, Sr./RB (1,000 yard back); Yam Banks, Jr./S (6 INTs, 50 tackles, 11 passes broken up); Carter Bradley, Sr./QB (3,343 passing yards, 28 TDs); Devin Voisin, Jr./WR (871 yards receiving, 64 catches, 5 TDs); Caullin Lacy, Jr./WR (616 yards receiving, 65 catches, 6 TDs); D.J. Thomas-Jones, Jr./TE (227 yards receiving, 4 TDs); Dontae Lucas, Jr./OL (former Florida State player); Jamie Sheriff, Sr./DE (43 tackles); Wy'Kevious Thomas, Jr./DT (35 tackles); Marquise Robinson, Jr./CB (28 tackles).
Last season, South Alabama football "found itself" after years of futility, never having posted a winning season before. Boy, did the Jaguars knock the crap out of opponents in a good league, the Sun Belt.
The program was two points away from beating UCLA, and five points away from knocking off its big local rival Troy (Mobile to Dothan in Alabama isn't a long distance). South Alabama easily could have been 12-0, and it returns 18 starters from offense and defense combined.
Quarterback Carter Bradley is a 3,000-plus passer, and he's not even the star of the show. He has skill position weapons galore to work with, many of which are mentioned above. And that defense that allowed only 21.3 points per game last year in USA's top season in short school history (began in 2009)? It is absolutely loaded with the top six tacklers and several other massive contributors returning. It is hard to pinpoint just one massive contributor on D.
This program is loaded for big things.
The Key Game and Why
Usually, we mention key conference games, but this is bigger. The opening game next week (Sept. 2 at Tulane) is almost like a preseason bowl. Last year, Tulane made a big splash in its bowl game span by knocking off Southern Cal. Now two monsters — Tulane and South Alabama — of this level lock horns in Louisiana. This is a big one when it comes to national prominence.
The Toughest Game and Why
When it comes to non-conference play, the trip to Oklahoma State will be a challenge, but could also be a win — plus a nice cash payout. Hard to complain about that, eh? The Cowboys appear to be rebuilding and were listed as seventh in the Big 12 preseason polls coming out of media day. This could be interesting.
The road trip to James Madison on Sept. 30 might need to be paid attention to this year — as the Dukes are solid, and Harrisonburg, Va. isn't an easy road trip. And don't forget Troy on a Thursday night (Nov. 2) — but it's hard to believe this year's USA team won't be out for revenge — and will be able to back it up.
Chances of Making Conference Title Game
Very, very, very (need I continue?) strong. The Troy game on Thursday, Nov. 2, is massive for SBC Western supremacy and southern Alabama bragging rights, but winnable. The bigger question is who comes out of the SBC East to counter things? The eligible East teams don't seem to be nearly as strong as the West teams.
This is a bold pick, but I'm going with a 12-0 regular season for South Alabama in 2023. This will of course send the college football world into a frenzy. Yep — undefeated, even with Oklahoma State scheduled on the sked. These guys look really good. They have all the weapons in all the right places, and the Cowboys of the Big 12 are rebuilding. Tulane is a legit challenge in Louisiana week one, just as big as OSU, but it's hard to predict that the Jaguars will fall in Sun Belt play — even with the SBC being the best G5 conference.
The prediction is? Kirk Herbstreit will be talking about this team — a lot — in November. Because the Jaguars, for the first time, are going to mess things up. And you know folks in Mobile, Alabama are going to love it.
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