What do Mississippi State, Nebraska, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, California, Tennessee, Penn State, and Georgia have in common?
All of the above have hosted the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the first game of the season in the past 20 years.
Point being, when Southern Miss heads up to Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, it won't be anything new for the storied program with a history of going on the road to anyone, anywhere, anytime. That history has also seen the Golden Eagles make those trips and leave the hosts quite disappointed.
In 1996, the debut of Jim Donnan, the suffocating Golden Eagles defense came in and shut down the Dogs, only surrendering a TD to win 11-7.
Go back even farther and you'll see even more. Ask Florida State. You won't find the Seminoles scheduling the Golden Eagles in week 1 anymore. This is a program that is not afraid to go into an opponent's back yard and silence the crowd. Or, bring an opponent's crowd to stand in an ovation actually for the road team (see Nebraska). These tough, early road match-ups are exactly what has put this program on the map and have given it national attention.
Saturday in Lexington, Southern Miss will open its 100th football season in front of a sea of blue and a Kentucky program that desperately needs to start out their season on the right note. This will be the 50th time USM will open its season on the road, with a pretty impressive record of 21-28, considering the quality of opponents they've faced over the years.
They'll also need to dig deep to get a win on the road against an SEC opponent. They haven't had one since the 21-0 beat down of Alabama in 2000.
Southern Miss certainly understands what they are facing going into this game. They have a head coach in Jay Hopson who has faced down major challenges all his life, in fact, it is those hurdles that have made him the man and coach that he is today. Coach Hopson has stood toe to toe with the very best as a defensive coordinator, he's turned around a SWAC program where he had to line his own field and brought them to a championship, and he even stood down his toughest opponent, cancer.
Hopson is now the face of a program that will seek to regain its "giant slayer" mentality. You better believe he's been preaching that all spring and fall camp to his troops as well. Make no mistake about it, Hopson knows what games like these mean to this program that has always played with a chip on its shoulder. He's coached it and he's lived it himself, and now he gets to be the leader of it.
He's already started to leave his stamp on this program. When the coaching change happened, there was no sulking, no drama, just hard work and a business like approach. This is a veteran group with strong leadership that knows it could be on the verge of something special.
If Southern Miss wants respect, it has a chance to go earn it Saturday night. This program was taken down to the lowest of absolute lows a few years ago and people wondered if they'd ever be able to return to prominence. Now 2016 awaits. A new chapter, with a new coach and a new attitude.
Anyone, anywhere, anytime.