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Know your opponent


September 01, 2017

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Like waiting for Christmas morning or that pair of brand new shoes you ordered from Amazon, football season is finally here and will take over America like an airborne virus.

 

Statesboro will be no exception to the infection as Georgia Southern travels to Auburn to kick off the first weekend of September. While the first month of the season has interesting games against Auburn and Indiana, the meat of Georgia Southern’s schedule won’t roll around until October when conference play kicks off.

 

The Sun Belt isn’t exactly known for its football prowess, but it's where Georgia Southern plays some of their most important games of the season. Conference games often decide the outcome of a team’s season whether it be high school or college football and for Georgia Southern this has been no exception since they joined the SBC in 2014.

 

So at the sake of rambling more, let’s take some time to briefly get to know the schedule which lies ahead of the Eagles which could easily make or break their 2017 season:

 

Oct. 4: Arkansas State Red Wolves

 

Arkansas State has been a breeding ground for division one head coaches this last decade. Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin have all made their way to big-time jobs and with another good season Blake Anderson could be next in line.

 

Under Anderson ASU has been to three straight bowls and have finished tops in the conference the last two seasons. That level of consistency doesn’t look to slow down this year as Arkansas State returns one of the conference's best defensive units while adding some JUCO players to fill in the gaps from starters lost a year ago.

 

Last season the offense was a problem, but with a majority of ASU’s production back in 2017 there should be improvement on that side of the ball. This will be a major swing game in conference play when ASU comes to Paulson Stadium and could be the difference in Georgia Southern’s bowl hopes.

 

Oct. 14: New Mexico State Aggies

 

Basketball, softball and golf -- these are the sports New Mexico State have traditionally excelled at over the years. But football has been a much different story as the Aggies haven’t finished a season with a winning record since 2002 and by most indications this won’t change anytime soon.

 

NMSU struggles to recruit talent every year and it’s played out on the field in Doug Martin’s four years as head coach. Even as they’d been able to develop a top-50 rushing offense behind the talents of running back Larry Rose III, nearly every other aspect of the game has fallen way behind the mark.

 

Even if the defense improves from horrific to simply bad and the offense can find a way to focus on the run as opposed to QB Tyler Rogers throwing the ball – NMSU shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Georgia Southern this season.

 

Oct. 28: Troy Trojans

 

Going back to the topic of hot coaching commodities, Troy’s Neal Brown could be the cream of the group-of-five crop next offseason if he can guide Troy to being anything close to what they were in 2017. Troy came out of nowhere last season by nearly stunning the 2016 national champions Clemson in week two.

 

By most indications Troy should come back strong as ever in 2017 to follow what was the best season in program history in 2016. The Trojans are balanced on both sides of the ball, though you’ll find defense is the Trojans biggest strength – specifically up the middle with defensive tackles Jamal Stadom and Seth Callaway.

 

If transfer running back Jamarius Henderson can find a way to compliment talented senior quarterback Brandon Silvers, the offense could take another step to Troy being a legit New Year’s Day team. And you best bet the Trojans won’t let Georgia Southern play spoiler two years in a row, especially this time around in Troy.

 

Nov. 4: Georgia State Panthers

 

Georgia State has always worn the label of “forgotten step-child” in the world of Georgia college football. The Panthers take much ridicule online from Eagle fans, though it probably hasn’t stung so much the last two years since State has beaten Southern twice in a row by a combined score of 60-31.

 

Now with a new coach and a new stadium, Georgia State may finally have the fresh start they need to build for an era of success. Georgia State had a sneaky good defense last season amid a 3-9 record and brings back a secondary which was one of the best in the conference. But the real questions come on offense for the Panthers.

 

Last season the Panther offense was one of the worst in the country and bringing in offensive-minded Sean Elliott as head coach should help with those woes. But Tyson Summers best not lose to his upstate rivals again, following up a disappointing 2016 season for the Eagles.  

 

Nov. 9 Appalachian State Mountaineers

 

If you’re new to Statesboro or simply new to the football program at Georgia Southern, there’s nothing quite like a Thursday night game in chilly November between the Eagles and the Mountaineers. The two sides did battle as top-tier FCS programs and have carried the rivalry over to the FBS.

 

However the past two seasons App State has had a big upper hand in the rivalry, outscoring Georgia Southern 65-23. The Mountaineers won double-digit games again in 2016 and could very well have one of the best group-of-five rosters in 2017. Safe to say, Georgia Southern isn’t getting a break from App this season.

 

With a top-50 defense and a seasoned quarterback in Taylor Lamb combined with a favorable schedule, App State could very well have ten wins locked up again before December. If luck breaks their way, App could be playing on New Year’s Day with 11 wins in hand.

 

Nov. 18: South Alabama Jaguars

 

Since moving up to the FBS South Alabama has seen a recent rise in success with their football program. Head coach Joey Jones has taken the Jags to bowls in two of the last three seasons and will look to finally win a bowl game in 2017.

 

But that will be easier said than done, considering their difficult schedule and no benefit of the doubt in USA’s ability to pass the ball or stop the run. A relatively strong pass defense never really saw action in 2016 due to the Jags inability to stop the ground game, so one would hope a year would see some improvement in the front seven.

 

If the Jags could find a way to be less predictable on offense by mixing up what they do with QB Dallas Davis, that end of the field should improve as well. The game against the Jags will be the final home game of 2017 for Georgia Southern and is one the Eagles should win.

 

Nov. 25: UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

 

Before head coach Mark Hudspeth came to town in 2011, UL-Lafayette had been a perennial football black hole for decades. But Hudspeth raised the bar to astronomical levels by Cajun standards, winning four New Orleans Bowls in a row from 2011 to 2014.

 

However since 2014, things in Lafayette have taken a slight slide – the Cajuns missed a bowl in 2015 but came back with a 6-7 finish in 2016. The defense should be back and even better this season with an athletic front seven but the offense still has many questions.

 

The passing game has potential to be exciting but the real question lies in if Lafayette can run the ball effectively to keep things from becoming one-dimensional. While questions loom, Lafayette will still be a formidable foe for the Eagles on the road come season’s end.

 

Dec.2: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

 

Three years ago Georgia Southern were the new boys in town and blew away the Sun Belt by going 9-3 to win the conference. Now it’s Coastal Carolina’s turn to try and shake things up their first year in.

 

While it does seem a bit unlikely the Chants will win the conference in year one, holding a .500 record by season's end isn’t out of the question. Outside of a road trip to Arkansas, CCU doesn’t play any daunting out-of-conference opponents and brings in an offense with plenty of options in the backfield.

 

The defense could be a serious deterrent in Coastal’s march to six wins, but by all means CCU is coming into the 2017 season in good shape. This game stands as the season finale for the Eagles in 2017 and could very well decide if Georgia Southern is bowl bound or not when it’s all said and done.

 


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