MOBILE, Ala. (AP) South Alabama opens the season against two teams from Power Five conferences, but those aren't the kind of games that most troubled the Jaguars in 2016.
They pulled two big upsets and made it to the Arizona Bowl while sputtering to a 2-6 Sun Belt Conference record. South Alabama visits Mississippi to start this season before hosting Oklahoma State at Ladd-Peebles Stadium six days later.
''We had instances last season where we were in games and had situations where the fight wasn't where it needed to be,'' Jaguars safety Jeremy Reaves said. ''We have to be able to fight for all four quarters. We were able to beat a SEC team, we beat a Top 25 team, and then we struggled in conference so we need to be constant throughout the entire season.''
South Alabama opened last season with an upset of the Southeastern Conference's Mississippi State and also toppled then-No. 19 San Diego State. The Jaguars lost all four Sun Belt road games, though.
''We have to find a way to win those games,'' coach Joey Jones said, ''and if we can do that we'll have a chance to compete for the championship.''
Expectations are higher after two straight losing seasons. South Alabama is picked to finish fourth in the league.
The Jaguars must replace their two biggest stars in defensive lineman Randy Allen, who led the team with 12 sacks, and tight end Gerald Everett. Everett was a second-round NFL draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams. South Alabama also must replace its top five receivers, including Everett and Josh Magee.
Quarterback Dallas Davis is back after passing for a school-record 2,706 yards while leading the Sun Belt in total offense. He missed the spring following shoulder surgery and is trying to fend off a challenge from Cole Garvin for the starting job.
Left tackle Noah Fisher is a preseason all-conference pick.
On defense, Reaves is a first-team All-Sun Belt performer while linebacker Darrell Songy's 100 tackles led the team last season.
Here are some things to know about South Alabama:
BIG-NAME OPPONENTS: The Jaguars haven't hosted a more high-profile opponent than Oklahoma State. First things first, they face an Ole Miss team that's been going through an NCAA investigation and must overcome the mid-summer resignation of Hugh Freeze.
''I think they are going to come out swinging because they've gone through some tough times,'' Jones said. ''They will be ready to play, I promise you.''
DEFENSIVE LINE: Despite losing Allen, this group is in much better shape going into this season. The Jaguars lost three defensive linemen to injury before last season. Defensive end Jimmie Gipson III was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing the past two seasons with injuries sustained in the preseason. Louisville transfer Finnesse Middleton is back after posting 4.5 sacks.
RUNNING THE BALL: Jones has made improving the ground game a big priority after the Jaguars ranked 102nd nationally in rushing offense. Leading rusher Xavier Johnson is back after running for nearly 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
OTHER KEY GAMES: at Troy, Oct. 11; Louisiana Lafayette, Nov. 4.
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