Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2007 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).
(All information as of June 20, 2007)
COACH AND PROGRAM
A winning record? That's simply a matter of meeting expectations at Southern Miss. It's something the Golden Eagles have done in each of the last 13 seasons, so anything less would be regarded as a near disaster by Southern Miss fans.
Earning a bowl trip? Same thing. The Golden Eagles have played in bowls each of the last five seasons and nine of the last 10 seasons. Southern Miss fans wouldn't know what to do in December if their Golden Eagles weren't preparing for a bowl.
Winning a championship? In the Jeff Bower era, that's the gold standard. The Golden Eagles have won at least a share of some kind of championship five times since Conference USA formed in 1996. While Southern Miss has never finished below fifth place in the conference standings and has finished third or better nine times, anything less than a championship is seen as something of a disappointment.
Even last year, when Southern Miss won the Eastern Division title and the GMAC Bowl and finished 9-5, the Golden Eagles weren't entirely satisfied because they lost to Houston in the conference championship game and missed out on a trip to the Liberty Bowl.
"I think our season was pretty good," said Bower, who enters his 17th season at Southern Miss, making him the nation's fourth-longest tenured coach behind Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer. "We had some tough things happen. We had four running backs quit after we started a true freshman early in the year. Three of them were scholarship guys and the other guy was a walk-on.
"But at one time we were 4-4 and we won four in a row to get to the championship game. Of course, we got beat there, but we went on and won a bowl game.
"Hey, my bad, but the standards here are pretty high. There's nothing wrong with that. If you don't win the championship, it's not good enough, and that's OK."
Even though Southern Miss has been the one consistent factor in an ever-changing conference, the Golden Eagles still know they haven't done everything they set out to do. In the two years since the conference split into divisions, they have yet to win the C-USA title, and nothing else matters.