Will Georgia Southern Challenge in the SBC East?
(This is the fifth in a series previewing the opponents on the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns 2019 schedule. Today: Georgia Southern. The Cajuns visit Statesboro on September 28th. Thanks to Phil Steele's College Football Preview for some of the information in this story.)
It was the best turnaround in the FBS a season ago.
In 2017 Georgia Southern fired head coach Tyson Summers midway through the season and replaced him with Chad Lunsford on an interim basis. The Eagles finished just 2-10 but saw enough in Lunsford to take the interim tag off his title.
Lunsford helped orchestrate a rebound to a 10-3 record a season ago, culminating in a win in the Camellia Bowl when Tyler Bass nailed a 40 yard field goal as time expired.
The Eagles did it by turning the ball over on offense just five times in 2018, an FBS record. Meanwhile, they finished a whopping plus-22 in turnover margin.
The Eagles return seven starters on each side of the football for 2019. Leading the triple option offense is quarterback Shai Werts. Georgia Southern doesn't throw it much, but Werts made it through the season without an interception, the only starting quarterback in the FBS to make such a claim. He also rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. The Eagles lost their top two rushers from last year, but do return some experience and have been bolstered by the announcement that Oklahoma State transfer J. D. King is eligible for this season.
There are many who think the Eagles might be the best defensive team in the league in 2019. They lose one defensive lineman, one linebacker and both safeties from last year's squad Raymond Johnson is an excellent pass rusher and Georgia Southern has the best tandem of corners in the league in Kindle Vildor and Monquavion Brinson. Both may have a chance to play on Sunday.
Georgia Southern returns its entire unit on special teams. Bass hit 19-21 field goals a season ago and was first team all-conference. Punter Magill Bauerle netted 35.8 on punts last season.
SCHEDULE: The Eagles get tested in a big way early in the season. They open with LSU at Tiger Stadium and after hosting FCS semi-finalist Maine in week two, head to Minnesota to face P. J. Fleck's improving Gopher squad. Their fourth non league game is later in the season against New Mexico State in Statesboro. Georgia Southern has an open date before meeting Louisiana.
Their league schedule does them no favors, especially later in the season. Beginning Oct 31 they are at Appalachian State, at Troy, take on ULM at home (who beat the Eagles last year) and travel to Jonesboro to meet Arkansas State.
OUTLOOK: A favorable league schedule and an outstanding turnover margin helped the Eagles to ten wins a year ago. This year, playing the East favorites on the road plus a trip to Jonesboro will make things tougher. And, no one expects a plus-22 turnover margin this year. They'll have a tough time coming close to last year's record. But one thing is for certain: If you're going to beat Georgia Southern, you'd better be good. They aren't going to beat themselves.