The Georgia Southern Eagles could not have had a more successful first year in the FBS. The team started off 1-2, but the losses were a one point loss to NC State in the first game of the season and a thriller 42-38 loss to Georgia Tech. After that, the team won eight of their next nine games to go 9-3 and 8-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. Because it was their first year in the FBS, the team was not eligible to play in the post season and Louisiana-Lafayette was given the spot in R + L Carrier New Orleans Bowl.
2015 is the Eagles’ first postseason eligible season and things could not be shaping up any better for the them. The team has all the pieces in place that makes for a successful season, but I don’t think anyone will see exactly what is coming from the Eagles this year.
The offense returns all of their offensive weapons, with running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby being one of the most tantalizing running back duos in all of college football. Breida rushed 1,748 yards and seventeen touchdowns last season with his best game coming at the Georgia State Panthers where he rushed for 201 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Ramsby had 691 yards and twelve touchdowns while playing a back-up role to Breida. Ramsby and Breida are both expected to split time on the field this season.
Quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw will both see the field numerous times this season as the latter earned a good role on the team in the absence of Ellison when he was dealing with minor injuries throughout 2014. Ellison’s numbers throwing the ball aren’t exactly what head coach Willie Fritz would have wanted, but what he lacks in throwing, he sure makes up for it running the ball.
Last year, Ellison ran for 1,006 yards and fourteen touchdowns. Upshaw was more proficient throwing the ball in place of Ellison in certain situations. The athleticism of Ellison combined with the pocket awareness of Upshaw could bring a two-quarterback system to Statesboro unlike one the city has ever seen before.
The defensive side of the ball saw major changes for the Eagles in the 2015 offseason, but the experience along the defensive line will be exactly what the team needs to take them over the top. The team will miss middle linebacker Edwin Jackson, who recorded 100 tackles for the team in 2014, but replace him with an energetic Deshawntee Gallon. He coupled with Antwione Williams will be able to give any team fits.
The defensive line is going to be the anchor for the Eagles’ defense. With Bernard Dawson on the edge and Jay Ellison holding down the interior, there is no reason why the shouldn’t be considered one of the more intimidating defenses in all of college football. Last season, the Eagles led the Sun Belt in points per games, only allowing 23.4 ppg, and were third in total defense with 388.1 yards per game.
The biggest reason why the Eagles have a phenomenal chance of going 12-0 in 2015 is simply how their schedule works out for them. The Eagles open the season on the road in Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers. If Georgia Southern wants to show the rest of the country why they are a team to be reckoned with, a convincing win over a Power Five conference school will certainly turn heads.
The Mountaineers struggled to stop the run in 2014, allowing for nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. Against a tough running attack like the Eagles’, that is just asking for a long night. The Eagles play in a chaotic territory when they head up to Morgantown, but coming out with a dynamic backfield like they have, the Eagles should be able to run up and down the field all night long.
The Eagles host their first FBS non-conference opponent the following week as the Western Michigan Broncos come to town. The Broncos have never been a pushover, but seeing as how they have been down in years past, the Eagles should have no problem taking care of them. The team then hosts FCS opponent The Citadel before going back on the road to open Sun Belt play.
Both Idaho and Louisiana-Monroe should be mere roadbumps for the Eagles on their way to a clash against Southern Conference rival Appalachian State on October 22. The two former FCS foes clash in Boone, North Carolina for the first time in the FBS, but the Eagles know that territory all too well.
The Eagles haven’t won in Boone since 2007, but the Mountaineers, who ruled the FCS during the mid-2000’s winning three national championships from 2005-2007, have not yet hit their stride since announcing their move to the FBS. Both the Eagles and Mountaineers moved into the Sun Belt in 2014, and looking at the two team’s records last season, it’s plain to see that the Eagles are much more equipped for the FBS in the early goings.
The team’s toughest match-up of 2015 when they face off against in-state opponent Georgia on November 21. The Bulldogs have a young defense and still haven’t found their footing along the defensive line after losing John Jenkins to the NFL. The Bulldogs are also still hunting for a quarterback to lead their team and it has literally been a coin-flip situation to decide the starter in fall training camp.
The Eagles must take advantage of the team having an inexperienced quarterback under center this year. Nick Chubb will easily be the best athlete the Eagles face all season long, but the defensive line is tough, especially on the interior. Chubb will have a long day trying to push through Ellison and Williams in the back seven.
Coach Fritz is one of the most successful coaches from the FCS. In four seasons with the Sam Houston State Bearkats, he led his team to three playoff appearances and two spots in the FCS National Championship game. Fritz has brought a new winning attitude to Statesboro and has reinvented the option offense the Eagles have been famous for running so well.
The Eagles know how to win games. They don’t have those six national championship flags flying at Paulson Stadium just for looks. The country will know that when the Eagles say they have arrived, they will absolutely mean it. While going 12-0 and winning the Sun Belt for a second consecutive year won’t put the Eagles into discussion for the College Football Playoff, the selection committee won’t be able to deny that they have done something special.
The Eagles are going to prove exactly why they want to step up and become the new Boise State Broncos. And they will.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports