There’s a new sheriff in town and he’s arrived with the intent to take South Alabama to the next level. Steve Campbell was hired as the Jaguars second head coach after spending the last four years at Central Arkansas.
Campbell has won with everything he’s commanded, from the JUCO level to Division-II to the FCS. His new challenge will be push a still-young program to new heights within the Sun Belt conference.
That all starts with winning the Wild West.
The Jaguars have had talent in the past but have struggled mightily with consistency. Over the years, South has pulled off upsets over the likes of Mississippi State and a Troy team that had just beaten LSU.
Consistency in football often centers around the quarterback position. South’s up-and-down nature is directly correlated with its inability to find a stable starter under center.
In recent years, Cody Clements in 2015 was the most relied on quarterback the Jags have had since Ross Metheny. In that 2015 season, Clements ended up throwing more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13).
This season, that problem might just be solved. After two years of waffling between Cole Garvin and Dallas Davis, the keys to the brand new offense are seemingly being handed to Cephus Johnson.
The redshirt freshman made a statement to the new coaching staff during the spring game by completing nine of 12 pass attempts for 126 yards. Johnson tossed two touchdown passes, including a 44 yarder to rising star Jamarius Way.
Johnson is a dual threat quarterback with as high a ceiling as anybody in the Sun Belt. His ability to move the ball through the air and on the ground make him a perfect fit for Campbell’s offense.
He’s not alone either. Wide receivers Way and Sam Harris were one of the conference’s top wide out duos last year after combining for 88 receptions and 1,332 yards.
Malik Stanley and Jordan McCray provide formidable depth at the position, giving the Jaguars a unit that could surprise some people.
Running back Tra Minter returns in a backfield that doesn’t boast nearly the depth as the receiver group.
Minter showed promise at times, but mostly struggled on his way to 341 yards on 3.19 yards per carry last season. Minter figures to be the workhorse in 2018 and his development will go a long way in how successful the offense can be. Playing alongside another running threat in Johnson should alleviate some of Minter’s pressure, or at least pull a couple linebacker’s eyes off of him.
On defense, the Jaguars will be without its best playmaker in school history as Jeremy Reaves has graduated.
The Jags are not without leaders on that side of that ball, however, with safety Nigel Lawrence and linebacker Bull Barge both returning.
Barge has 167 tackles in three seasons while Lawrence has logged 139 career tackles. Lawrence leads a secondary that struggled last year, but does return some depth this season.
Where South may just show out this year, though, is up front. The Jaguars were middling in the conference in run defense and used a five linebacker rotation throughout the course of the season and are only replacing one.
South was not particularly effective at getting into the backfield a year ago, finishing dead last in the Sun Belt in tackles for loss last season with 50.
The return of linemen Tyree Turner, Rocel McWilliams and Chris Henderson provide the Jags with a solid foundation to improve on in 2018.
South Alabama has the pieces on offense to take the Sun Belt by storm if Kenny Edenfield’s unit can click early in the season. It’s conference opener with Texas State in week three provides the Jaguars the opportunity to do just that. With a potentially stout front seven, the defense might be able to force teams to play one dimensionally. 7-5, 5-3
South may hit a road block on offense if it breaks down in early season play against Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State. It’s particularly susceptible to that happening given Edenfield’s dink-and-dunk heavy playcalling tendency. On the other side of the ball, experience isn’t always good experience. Teams may target South’s secondary early on and not have to establish the run. 4-8, 3-5