November 27, 2012
The frost is on the pumpkin, Eagle Nation.
Erk Russell used that saying to remind his team that late fall is the time of year championship teams must begin playing their best football — and right now would be a really good time to see Georgia Southern start hitting on all cylinders. It’s playoff time in Statesboro!
The Eagles will begin their quest for a seventh national championship this Saturday when the Central Arkansas Bears come to town for a 2 p.m. showdown. The days of early-round cake walks are long gone; this team is not one to take lightly. So, let’s get to know them, shall we?
Central Arkansas plays in the Southland Conference, also home to Sam Houston State, McNeese State and Stephen F. Austin. If you’ll remember, Sam Houston State has spent much of the past two seasons ranked at or near the top of the national polls. The Bearkats’ only loss last season was in the national title game to North Dakota State by a score of 17-6.
Central Arkansas beat Sam Houston 24-20 earlier this year. In fact, the Bears’ only two losses this season have come to Ole Miss of the SEC and on the road at Stephen F. Austin by five points in a downpour. They won the Southland with a 6-1 conference record, and with a 9-2 overall mark, they ended the regular season ranked No. 8 in the nation.
I don’t know what Georgia Southern did to piss off the NCAA selection committee, but this is not a very nice way to reward the No. 5-seeded Eagles. On the other side of the coin, Central Arkansas can’t be happy about having to go on the road to face a top-five team in the first round after the season they had.
But there’s no use in complaining about it. It’s the playoffs, and every team is going to have to beat other really good teams if they want a shot at a title. That’s the beauty of a playoff system.
Let’s get back to the Bears. This team hasn’t lost since Sept. 29 and is riding a six-game winning streak. This offense can put up some big numbers, as they average 36.5 points per game. Defensively, the Bears allow an average of just over 22 points per game.
Central Arkansas has not faced a triple option team this season, but they have had two weeks to prepare for the Eagles, which concerns me a bit. One of the advantages Georgia Southern has always had in the playoffs is facing teams that have had just a week to set a game plan for an offense they aren’t used to seeing.
But the Eagles have had two weeks to get healthy and prepare for the Bears as well. Southern definitely needed that week off because there have been several players who have been banged up.
Central Arkansas is a very good team, but the Southland Conference is pretty top-heavy; once you get past the top two or three teams, it’s honestly a pretty weak conference. Georgia Southern will be the best team the Bears have played in months. The Eagles have run a gauntlet over the past few weeks of the regular season, so this shouldn’t be a step up in the level of competition. Tattler prediction:
Honestly, this one still makes me nervous. But I think Georgia Southern makes enough plays to advance to the quarterfinals. Eagles 35, Bears 27.
In basketball news, Georgia Southern opens its SoCon schedule at home Wednesday night against Elon. The Eagles are coming off a tough 70-53 loss to Maryland. After leading for much of the first half and trailing by just three at the half, Southern couldn’t hold on as the Terps went on a big run early in the second half to get out with the win.
The Lady Eagles played in the Georgia State Thanksgiving Tournament over the weekend and split its two games. Southern fell to Georgia State 73-48 Friday but bounced back with a 71-47 win over Kent State. The Lady Eagles open Southern Conference play Saturday at Davidson.