TODAY at No. 31: GEORGIA SOUTHERN
Coach: Willie Fritz (9-3, entering second season; 9-3 overall)
2014 record: 9-3, 8-0 in Sun Belt; first in Sun Belt
Look back: Georgia Southern accomplished arguably the most successful transition to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference, thriving during its debut season in the Sun Belt Conference. The team proved its potent rushing attack could dominate just as much as it did at the Football Championship Subdivision level when it notably upset the University of Florida in Gainesville. The Eagles delivered an 8-0 record in Sun Belt play, clinching the conference title.
NCAA rules precluded the team from participating in a bowl game during its transition season. The missed opportunity has fired up Georgia Southern to earn a bowl bid during the upcoming season, the first year it is eligible to play in the postseason.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: OL Garrett Frye, OL Manrey Saint-Amour, LB Edwin Jackson
Top returnees: RB Matt Breida, QB Kevin Ellison, OL Darien Foreman, DL Jay Ellison, DB Matt Dobson, RS Derek Keaton
Strengths: Georgia Southern ranked No. 1 nationally last season in rushing offense, averaging 381.1 yards per game, and No. 10 in scoring (39.1 points per game).
The team returns six starters, with running back Matt Breida and quarterback Kevin Ellison and offensive lineman Darien Foreman serving as key leaders for the powerful offense. Breida racked up 1,485 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, while Ellison chipped in 1,096 rushing yards and 1,001 passing yards with 17 total touchdowns.
The defense offered the balance the Eagles needed, ranking No. 30 in scoring defense (23.4 points allowed). Defensive lineman Jay Ellison and defensive back Matt Dobson should serve as strong anchors on the defensive side of the ball.
Weaknesses: Offensive linemen Garrett Frye and Manrey Saint-Amour are gone, leaving the Eagles without experience up front that helped fuel the team’s run to the Sun Belt title. The team is hoping bulking up will help offset their departures.
While Georgia Southern delivered an impressive 2014, the Eagles dropped all their games against FBS teams outside the Sun Belt and still have room to improve on both sides of the ball.
Outlook: Despite the departure of nine starters from last year’s team, Georgia Southern has the ingredients needed to repeat as Sun Belt champions. The key will be avoiding injuries and adapting to a new role as the league’s top target.
“We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz told SI.com. “I’ve talked to our players about that. . . . So we’ve got to all get better.”
Sept. 5 at West Virginia
Sept. 12 Western Michigan
Sept. 19 The Citadel
Set. 26 at Idaho
Oct. 3 at UL-Monroe
Oct. 17 New Mexico State
Oct. 22 at Appalachian State
Oct. 29 Texas State
Nov. 14 at Troy
Nov. 21 at Georgia
Nov. 28 South Alabama
Dec. 5 Georgia State
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com