First off, I've got to get something off my chest:
WE'VE GOT REAL FOOTBALL TO TALK ABOUT! WE'VE GOT REAL FOOTBALL TO TALK ABOUT! AAAAAAAAH!!!
Okay, now that we've established that the offseason is indeed, truly and mercifully coming to an end, let's talk about Georgia Southern's first game.
Start Time: 7:30 P.M. ET, Saturday, Sept. 5
Location: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia
TV: Root Sports, FSN
Streaming: Try Fox Sports Go
Radio: Georgia Southern here. West Virginia here.
Records: Doughnuts everywhere
Live Stats: Here.
Betting Line: West Virginia -20, Over/Under of 58.5
The Opponent: While the Mountaineers are a nearly three-touchdown favorite, by some measures they live in the same neighborhood as Georgia Southern.
West Virginia received three votes in the Coaches Top 25 Poll, GSU got two. Southern finished 57 in the final F/+ rankings last year, WVU is projected to finish at 40. The Orlando Sentinel's CFB countdown has the Mountaineers at 66 and the Eagles all the way down at 31. Who's the underdog here?
Remember too, while the Mountaineers finished a decent 7-6 last season, the year before they were an abysmal 4-8. If I'm a betting man, that's what I call value.
Looking at more concrete factors, WVU is breaking in a new quarterback and also has to replace its top two wideouts, who caught more than half of the team's passes in 2014. Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts are tasked with filling the gap at wide receiver.
New starting QB Skylar Howard saw action last year after Clint Trickett went down with head injuries and impressed in some areas while underperforming in others. Howard completed just 51 percent of his passes but also finished with eight touchdowns against zero interceptions and is pretty mobile both in the pocket and running downfield.
Speaking of running downfield, WVU finished with 2,376 yards on the ground, good for 49th nationally, leaving them with just over half what their week 1 opponents rushed for last season. Top backs Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood both return, meaning there may be a stronger emphasis placed on rushing this time around. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen's offense was pretty potent on the whole, finishing 14th in total yards and averaging 33.5 points per game.
Fans who don't watch a lot of West Virginia football may envision a team completely reliant on its hot offense to churn out wins by a final score of something like 40-37. In truth the defense is expected to be the team's strength this season. It will face quite a test from the Fritzkrieg.
Ten defensive starters return this year. The Mountaineer 'D' performed well in pass coverage last year though it didn't have much of a pass rush. That could go either way as Southern is obviously known for its rushing game but reportedly wants to phase in more passes in 2015. Lastly, the Mountaineers forced 14 turnovers last season and gave up 29. Georgia Southern fans know how important it is to win the turnover battle.
On the whole, the Morgantown faithful are still unsure about Holgorsen, making this a make-or-break season. If the upset does happen, it'll be Holgorsen's seat burning rather than a bunch of old couches.
@EersNation - Vegas Over-Under #WestVirginia Couch Burning by Region. Source: hHN Network. pic.twitter.com/0iVMOcqzZQ— herdHater™ (@herdHater) August 25, 2014
Georgia Southern Outlook: Cautiously optimistic, but isn't everybody right now?
The biggest question of the offseason was supposed to be how the Eagles would replace four offensive linemen. That changed with the shocking announcement starting quarterback Kevin Ellison is academically suspended for the first two games of the season.
Now that the fanbase has had time to digest Ellison's situation it casts all sorts of interesting questions regarding this opening game. It appears the coaching staff likely knew about the suspension, or at least the possibility of a suspension, as far back as December. Junior and all-name team member Vegas Harley was moved from safety to quarterback in the spring, and one can't help but wonder if that's a reason why.
In any case, and as I've written before, GSU head coach Willie Fritz utilized a two-quarterback system last year and backup Favian Upshaw played well when he saw action.
It's a relatively sample size but Upshaw averaged 9.6 yards per carry and 10.6 yards per throwing attempt, while completing 70.4 percent of his passes. Did he play as well as Ellison? Not quite, but he's a far cry from an unknown with only garbage time experience.
A third major variable for the offense is Fritz's apparent desire to pass more often. He ran, ran ran last year, because why not, but historically has thrown much more often. All of that is to say the offense we see Saturday could be a surprise to just about everyone who's not part of the team. If you're getting nervous, just envision Matt Breida taking a pitch with a couple of big blockers. That part of the offense ain't going anywhere.
Defense returns more starters (seven rather than five) and appears to have less question marks. Losing top tackler Edwin Jackson hurts, but playmaker and fan fave Matt Dobson is back even if his trademark crop top isn't. A pick-six from him would go a long way in Morgantown. Senior safety Antonio Glover will need to have a big game, as will linebacker Antwione Williams. Actually, the entire defense will need to step it way up to bring home a victory.
Prediction: The legendary Georgia Southern fanbase definitely believes the Eagles can pull off the win. All I'm going to say is 20 points seems way too steep.This looks like a close game on paper. Also, take the over if you're into that sort of thing.
We'll leave it to you, humble reader, let us know who you think will win.