USM football countdown: Ranking the five toughest games

UNDATED (WLOX) - About three weeks remain until Southern Miss football opens summer camp. Until that time comes, let's take a look at the five toughest games WLOX's Tyler Bouldin thinks Southern Miss will have to play this year in head coach Todd Monken's second season.

5. at Middle Tennessee State (October 4) -- The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders will be the first conference road test for Southern Miss. The two teams have only played each other twice. The Blue Raiders have won both times, including last year's 42-21 win in Hattiesburg.

4. vs Rice (September 27) -- It's the first conference game of the year overall and it comes at home against the defending Conference USA champion Rice Owls. By the time Southern Miss hosts Rice in the pine belt, the Owls will have already played road games against Texas A&M and Notre Dame. Up until last year, the Owls had lost five consecutive conference openers. Southern Miss has lost back-to-back openers.

3. vs Marshall (November 8) -- Luckily for the Golden Eagles, the defending Conference USA champs from the West and East divisions will be playing in Hattiesburg. Led by then-sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, the Marshall Thundering Herd lost in the Conference USA title game to Rice last year and was the only team to average 500 total yards of offense, including over 300 passing yards per contest. As far as the running game goes, that was pretty good, too. Even though the Thundering Herd lost leading rusher Essray Taliafarro, Marshall's second- and third-leading rusher averaged 50 yards per game last season. Southern Miss' leading rusher showcased a number less than that, putting up an average of only 42 yards per game.

2. at Mississippi State (August 30) -- Southern Miss will waste no time ending the lengthy drought of not playing Mississippi State. These two teams haven't met since 1990 and will meet in the season opener in Starkville. The Bulldogs are riding the momentum of a blowout 44-7 win over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs turn over the keys to the offense full-time to Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell graduated. Mississippi State has won 11 consecutive non-conference home games dating back to 2009. Southern Miss is 13-14-1 all time against Mississippi State, including a seven-game winning streak over the Bulldogs from 1977-83.

1. at Alabama (September 13) -- The consensus regarding the toughest game Southern Miss will have to play this year is a road game in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama hasn't lost a non-conference home game since a 21-14 defeat at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe in 2007, which was Saban's first year as head coach. The Crimson Tide seemed destined for a national championship berth in 2013 until that stunning loss in Auburn. USM is 6-33-2 all time versus Alabama, but that record includes two wins taken away from the Tide because of NCAA sanctions.



10/30at Mississippi State6:30 p.m.
9/13at Alabama5 p.m.
9/27RICE*2 p.m.
10/4at Middle Tennessee State*TBA
10/18at North Texas*TBA
11/1at UTEP*7 p.m.
11/8MARSHALL*7 p.m.
11/13at UTSA*7 p.m.
 *Conference USA game