Here it is! Dave's very first comp selection for the brand new college football season. This line has a chance to go down off a key number, so grab it now if you're able!
I'm usually a little hesitant to back new head coaches out of the gate, but I think there's enough in play here to support a play on Southern Mississippi. Jay Hopson has done well at the FCS level, and he was formerly an assistant here at Southern Miss. I also like the fact that the new OC is Shannon Dawson, who had that job at Kentucky last season. He got fired, so there's two ways to read the situation. One is that he wasn't any good, the other is that he didn't have the personnel. But one thing for sure is that you know Dawson is going to be all-in to do some damage to the program that dumped him. That's a nice intangible. USM has the best QB in CUSA in Nick Mullens, and while the offense did lose a few important pieces, I expect the Golden Eagles to still be very productive on offense. We'll see on the defense. I don't think it's necessarily down from last year, but it probably isn't any better either.
Kentucky is already having some problems.The Wildcats are already down two projected defensive starters. For a team that lost seven of its eight leading tacklers from 2015, this is a potentially big hit. I think the Wildcats could have an improved offense. Eddie Gran is the new OC and he did some great work at Cincinnati. Drew Barker was unimpressive in two starts last season, but he was a pretty highly recruited QB and I suspect he'll do a better job this season. The strength of the Kentucky team will be its running game, especially with what is a very experienced OL to open holes.
This game looks like a tossup to me. I have these two teams very close in all three sets of power ratings I utilize. It's an important game for both teams. Southern Miss is an upwardly mobile program that would love to knock off an SEC opponent on the road. Kentucky hasn't been to even a minor bowl since 2010, and if Mark Stoops wants to stay off the hot seat, he needs an invite this season. That makes this almost a must win Week One game for the Wildcats. But I don't see them being a full TD better than the Golden Eagles, and with the early attrition on defense, I see the visitors having a legit shot here. I'll take the touchdown with Southern Mississippi.