Year four of the Hugh Freeze era gets underway with a road trip to Southern Miss on Sept. 3. Today, we begin our early look at Liberty’s 2022 schedule with the season opener in Hattiesburg.

WHO: Southern Miss (3-9, 2-6 CUSA)

WHEN: Sept. 3, 7 pm, ESPN+

WHERE: MM Roberts Stadium (36,000)

SERIES: Liberty leads 1-0

WHAT’S NEW: After a long and storied tenure in Conference USA, Southern Miss moves to the Sun Belt this season where they will look to get back to a bowl game after missing out the past three seasons. The Golden Eagles lost their top five quarterbacks during the season last year, played a total of 10 quarterbacks, and opted to go with running backs behind center to close the season. Former Liberty offensive line coach Sam Gregg takes over that unit at Southern Miss as well as having offensive coordinator duties.

WHO TO WATCH, OFFENSE: Jason Brownlee has been the top wide receiver for Southern Miss the past couple of season since joining the program from the JUCO ranks. His numbers last year weren’t overwhelmingly impressive with all the issues at quarterback the team had. Frank Gore enters his third year at running back for the Eagles after leading the team in rushing the past two years.

WHO TO WATCH, DEFENSE: Malik Shorts is back at safety and will brag about his interception of Heisman trophy winner Bryce Young from a season ago. Along with Jay Stanley, Southern Miss has a very talented safety group while linebacker Hayes Maples leads the way in the middle of the defense.

OUTLOOK: Under second year head coach Will Hall, Southern Miss is poised to make a big leap forward this season. They would have won more than three games in 2021 had they not had so many injuries and turnover at quarterback. Hall has two talented QBs that could slide in and take control of the offense in Ty Keyes and Trey Lowe. Those two combined to start the first five games of 2021 for the Eagles before each went down with a season ending injury.

Southern Miss only had 62 scholarship players on the team last year, and it showed as they struggled to keep up with teams in the second half of games. This year, they return 16 starters and numerous transfers have arrived including 10 from SEC programs. All signs are pointing up and Southern Miss should compete to get back to a bowl game.