HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For a third consecutive year, The University of Southern Mississippi will kick off a football season against a foe from the Southeastern Conference.
But the Golden Eagles appear to be treating Saturday's trip to the University of Kentucky as just the first of 11 opportunities to pick up a victory.
"It's a big game because it's the game we play this week," first-year coach Jay Hopson said Monday afternoon during the first of his weekly news conferences. "One thing I learned a long time ago is that the most important game of the season is the next game. But it's a big game and a tough opponent."
USM is coming off a bounce-back, 9-5 season after winning just four games between 2012-14. Kentucky started last season 4-1 before fading in primarily conference play to a 5-7 record.
But while the Kentucky's sports reputation still revolves around its basketball program, USM Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson said the Wildcats still recruits SEC-caliber talent.
"Definitely," Dawson said, who was Kentucky's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach last year before assuming the same duties with USM this season.
And it's at the quarterback that the Golden Eagles may hold an edge.
USM senior Nick Mullens, who set single-season school record in 2015 for passing yardage (4,476 yards) and touchdown passes (38), returns for a fourth year as starter.
Kentucky sophomore Drew Barker comes into the season with five appearances and two starts under his belt, throwing for 364 yards and one touchdown in 2015.
"Every coordinator wants to have one," Dawson said of a seasoned starting quarterback. "When you don't have one, it's a problem and when you do have one, you're happy, so it's definitely a plus."
Hopson said the only injury concern heading into the game is at defensive tackle, where junior starter Draper Riley will not play after suffering an undisclosed injury to his right leg last week.
Hopson said that senior Jerry McCovery will get the starting against the Wildcats.
"He's had an outstanding summer," Hopson said.
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