Less than 48 hours to kickoff, everybody! I caught up with Walt of Underdog Dynasty to get some insight into how Georgia Southern is shaping up for its first FBS season. My responses to Walt's questions are over at his place.
1.) How would you gauge initial expectations for Georgia Southern in its first FBS season? The Eagles have been picked to finish in the bottom half of the Sun Belt by just about everybody--is that fair?
I think somewhere around 6-6 or 7-5 is what I'm expecting. There are some very winnable games against some lower-level Sun Belt teams, and I think we'll surprise a team or two. I think it's also fair that we're picked that low in the Sun Belt simply because it's a difficult transition to make. Georgia Southern won't have the full 85 scholarships for another year or two, and depth will be a big issue as the season progresses. I think it's a fair assessment by the pundits at this point, but I don't necessarily know if it will be where Georgia Southern actually ends up.
2.) The last time Southern moved away from its old school triple option offense, things ended badly. It sounds like Willie Fritz is retaining some of those concepts while making over the offense in the process, but even so, are folks concerned about the changes? Do you expect significant growing pains early on?
There are people who are concerned, but I think Willie Fritz's offense is close enough to the triple option that the worry is not as bad as it would have been had someone come in like He Who Must Not Be Named (and is now the Notre Dame defensive coordinator) and decided to wipe away every tradition and practice that made Georgia Southern great. I don't expect growing pains to be terribly significant because of the similarities, and also because Willie Fritz has emphasized that he will work in a lot of the triple option to his plans, as well. Georgia Southern has been experimenting with the option out of the shotgun for the past few years under Jeff Monken, so it's not like it's an entirely new concept.
3.) Can the Eagles replace their losses on the defensive side and hold their own this season? Just how big of a worry is that defense?
The defense is a concern, but not as much as many may think. There are significant losses like the graduation of Lavelle Westbrooks and Kyle Oehlbeck, but there are also players coming back from injury that will hopefully be healthy and ready to play. Valdon Cooper is a pretty good corner back, and there are some JUCO transfers that should also help shore up the pass defense.
4.) How does GSU's place kicking situation look? Iffy? No concern?
Place kicking is a definite concern to me. Georgia Southern went from one of the most accurate kickers in the country a few years back (Adrian Mora, who set the consecutive extra points record in the NCAA) to having some serious struggles the last two seasons. Lack of a good kicker cost Georgia Southern a few games in 2012 that otherwise may have meant North Dakota State coming to Statesboro rather than the Eagles travelling to Fargo. That game came down to the final seconds and lack of a field goal kicker cost the Eagles a semi-final victory at the Fargo Dome. Kicking was still a struggle this past season, but Younghue Koo looked to wrap up the kicking duties at the end of the season with a great record. I thought for sure Koo would be the kicker this season, but according to the depth chart Alex Hanks has moved ahead of him, again. I don't know whether that's due to Hanks improving or Koo backsliding. I obviously hope it's the former. So I am definitely worried about the kicking game.
5.) Regardless of outcome, what would you like to see from the Eagles in their first game under a new head coach?
I would like to see an offense that works. I want to see that the Eagles have grasped the new offense and are able to move the ball. I hope I see QBs (because I believe both Ellison and Upshaw will play at some point) who can throw the football. I also want to see a defense that doesn't give up as many big plays as last season's defense did and has improved in the passing game. I want to see Georgia Southern show up and be competitive and show that the Eagles are well on their way to being a competitive team in the FBS and not a cupcake.