Liberty will kickoff the 2022 season this coming Saturday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. To help us get an inside look at Southern Miss, we spoke with Heath Hinton of BigGoldNation, part of the Rivals network.

Coming into week 1, what is the biggest question held by Southern Miss fans about this team?

Heath Hinton, BigGoldNation: Ever since the end of last season, the 2 big questions about this team are on the OL and the QB position. Will Sam Gregg make a difference on the line. Will they be able to block well enough to keep the QB healthy. USM had 10 guys take snaps at the QB position last season. It all starts up front.

What is the expectation for Frank Gore Jr’s production this year?

HH, BGN: Frank Gore Jr is a guy who can do multiple things for you. He is a tough runner between the tackles and is solid in pass protection. He can also throw the ball from the QB position, which he did well in the last 2 games of 2021 (both were wins for Southern Miss). To me it’s his leadership abilities that sets him apart. He is loved by his teammates and the fans. Look for him to have a true breakout season if he can stay healthy.

Who do you consider to be the biggest X factor on the Golden Eagles offense besides the quarterback? How about for the defense?

HH, BGN: As I said in the first question. It all starts with the OL. The Eagles have enough skill players to create problems for defenses. If the OL is improved, this team will score points.

On defense it is the DL. USM has 8 guys that are near or over 300 lbs to play their base defensive line. This is a group that had a number of SEC transfers added to it. If they can keep OL off the linebackers and stuff the run, this defense will be better than last. The defense was pretty solid in 2021.

If you had to guess the ending record for this team, what would it be?

HH, BGN: This team could win anywhere from 4-7 games this season. It depends on the first 4 games. If USM can go 2-2, they can win 6 games and go to a bowl. I think this team is a year away and now playing in a better conference, I will say 5-7 but wouldn’t be surprised if they go 7-5.

What player do you think is poised for a breakout season?

HH, BGN: A name to keep you eyes on is WR Jason Brownlee. He was really good last season and without him they wouldn’t have won the last 2 games. His ability to stretch the field and make the tough catch is fun to watch.

Where do you think the Flames will struggle the most against this team?

HH, BGN: I think this game is won or loss up front. Whichever line can dominate the line of scrimmage will win. I think the USM DL will be tough to deal with all season and that might be where USM has an advantage in this game.

What is your final score prediction for this game?

HH, BGN: I think it will be a close game decided in the last quarter. I have been going back and forth with this game in my mind. I think Liberty will win 27-24, but wouldn’t be surprised if the score is reversed. A really fun season opener for both schools.