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JaCorey Morris, USM’s top-rated 2016 recruit, has left Golden Eagles

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The highest-rated member of Southern Miss’ recruiting class last year has found himself on the outside of the football program looking in this year.

Multiple media outlets reported Friday evening that JaCorey Morris is no longer with the team. Just what led to the linebacker’s departure, and whether it was voluntary or involuntary, is very much an unknown.

Interestingly, Patrick Magee of the Sun Herald wrote that “USM head coach Jay Hopson [said] Friday that freshman linebacker JaCorey Morris won’t be with the squad for the 2017 campaign.” Some could interpret that phrasing as the door being at least slightly ajar for a return at some point beyond this season.

A three-star 2016 recruit, Morris was rated as the No. 24 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 22 player at any position in the state of Alabama. Originally committed to South Carolina, Morris instead became USM’s top recruit last year.

As a true freshman, though, he took a redshirt.

Mike Gundy looks to Southern Miss to plug opening on Okla. St. staff

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Once again, Mike Gundy‘s Oklahoma State coaching staff is complete.

Earlier this month, Marcus Arroyo announced that he had left his post as the Cowboys’ running backs coach to become the quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator at Oregon. Less than a week later, OSU announced that John Wozniak will take over the same post abandoned by Arroyo.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Wozniak as the coach served as an offensive graduate assistant at OSU in 2004.  He followed Les Miles to LSU and was on the Tigers football staff as an offensive quality control coach when they won the 2007 national championship.  Another title ring followed at Alabama in 2012, where he was a special teams analyst for Nick Saban‘s program.

“What I like about John is that he is a self-made guy who worked his way up and did it the hard way,” Gundy said. “I know him and I know he’s a hard worker and that he can recruit. He’s been with people who I’m close to, so I’ve followed his path along the way and we’re excited to have him back here with us.”

Wozniak had spent the past four seasons at Southern Miss as wide receivers coach and working with the special teams as well.  His first on-field role at the FBS level came as the special teams coordinator at Memphis in 2009.

Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Southern Miss aerial attack too much for UL-Lafayette in New Orleans Bowl

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Allenzae Staggers already set the school record for receiving yards in a game this year.

He did his best to try and break it again on Saturday night as Southern Miss’ aerial attack was too much for UL-Lafayatte in 28-21 victory in the New Orleans Bowl.

Staggers did most of his damage in the first half but finished with a remarkable 230 yards on 11 catches with one touchdown. His stellar play in slicing up the Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary played a big role in the Golden Eagles’ offensive success and allowed senior quarterback Nick Mullens to close out his career with 346 yards, two scores and an interception that came off a deflection.

Tailback Ito Smith also had an impressive night to end the season, rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns while adding another score through the air.

That was all too much for Louisiana to overcome. Quarterback Anthony Jennings did take advantage of a turnover to cut the lead to one score late in the fourth quarter but was otherwise mediocre with just 95 yards passing on eight completions (he did rush for two scores). Elijah McGuire chipped in with 96 yards on the ground as well.

The victory caps off an up-and-down 2016 for Southern Miss in which the team rallied to beat Kentucky in the opener but struggled down the stretch when Mullens missed time with injuries.

Those issues were forgotten about on Saturday however, as the night belonged to the ever productive Staggers and the impressive aerial attack of the Golden Eagles in a fun one from the Superdome.

Southern Miss WR Allenzae Staggers goes off but it’s all tied up at halftime in the New Orleans Bowl

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If you didn’t catch much of Conference USA this season, you probably don’t know the name Allenzae Staggers. If you watched the first half of the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night though, you certainly won’t forget the name.

The Southern Miss wide receiver caught seven passes for a whopping 202 yards in just two quarters worth of work as the Golden Eagles went into halftime tied with UL-Lafayatte at 14-all.

Staggers connection with quarterback Nick Mullens (13-of-22, 247 yards, one touchdown) was apparent from the get-go in the game as they sliced through the opposing secondary. Tailback Ito Smith also got into the action by catching a touchdown and scoring another on the ground but the offense wasn’t quite as effective after their first few series.

The Ragin Cajuns refused to back down however, answering one score with a touchdown of their own to cap a 66 yard drive. The team scored again after recovering a fumble and used backup quarterback Dion Ray on the keeper to find the end zone and tie the game up midway through the second quarter.

Starter Anthony Jennings was mostly ineffective for the team as he went just 4-of-10 passing for 38 yards and an interception.

While the game wasn’t super high scoring and marred by a few bad plays on either side, there was enough in the first half to suggest that we could be in for a wild one from the Superdome. Given how past New Orleans Bowls have gone, that would certainly be appropriate.