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Georgia Southern Football Preview 2018: Nowhere to fly but up for the Eagles

Who’s ready to elbow drop a chair and start the season?

South Alabama v Georgia Southern Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

I’m going to hit you right away with a bold prediction: The Georgia Southern Eagles will win more games in 2018 than they did in 2017.

When you go 2-10, improving the win total is the easy part. New head coach Chad Lunsford picked up both of the good digits last year during his interim audition, and I think he’ll rack up at least three more this fall.

That alone earns a Show Up Show Out.

Whether Eagle fans are in for an honest-to-God good season, especially by GS’s sky high standards, is another question entirely. Everyone’s over the FBS transition excitement, and hopefully we can put to rest the eternal should-we-still-run-the-option debate for a few years (by the way, the answer to that question is always yes).

Last Time Out: Let’s not discuss this and say we did. The 18-game, 22-month Tyson Summers “era” crashed following an 0-6 start in 2017. This means Lunsford will equal Summers in head coaching experience by simply keeping his job through the end of the year.

GS was an absolute mess last season, concluding a precipitous fall which began the moment Summers was hired. He rode Fritzkrieg momentum to 3-0 in 2016, then went 2-13 before a merciful mid-season sack.

Lunsford only did so much in his six-game audition, but showed considerable promise down the stretch. Southern smashed South Alabama 52-0, then squeaked out a win over Louisiana, earning enough goodwill to become elbow dropper in chief.

2017 Record: 2-10, (2-6 Sun Belt)

2018 Schedule:

Sept. 1: South Carolina State

Sept. 8: UMass

Sept. 15: at Clemson

Sept. 22: OPEN

Sept. 29: Arkansas State *

Oct. 6: South Alabama *

Oct. 11: at Texas State * (Thurs.; ESPNU)

Oct. 20: at New Mexico State

Oct. 25: Appalachian State * (Thurs.; ESPNU)

Nov. 3: at ULM *

Nov. 10: Troy *

Nov. 17: at Coastal Carolina *

Nov. 24: at Georgia State *

*conference game

Preseason S&P+ Ranking: 106

Returning Starters: Eight on offense, nine on defense

Offensive Outlook: Coach says Georgia Southern is running the option and this time it might actually be safe to believe him.

It’s often said that in relationships, head coaching or otherwise, you tend to look for the opposite of what you had before. Willie Fritz bolted for another job after two successful years in 2014 and ‘15, so the onus was on finding a young coach who loved Georgia Southern and would stick around forever.

Enter Tyson Summers, who checked the loyalty box but left out the part about winning football games and had an almost shockingly mild personality for a head coach. Thus, Chad Lunsford, who creates his own cheers and throws metal chairs on the ground like a long-lost WWE star.

Anyway, on offense Lunsford handed the reins to Bob DeBesse (please no Drake jokes), a coaching veteran who spent the last six seasons with the New Mexico Lobos. His squad finished top 10 in rushing yards per game five years in a row, including No. 1 overall in 2016. Southern was lucky to pick him up following a down 2017.

Here’s an interesting breakdown of an offensive play and formation from 2016:

I’ve never claimed to be an Xs and Os guy but it looks like the Fritzkrieg to me.

Southern was young last year and returns 17 starters in total. Among those will be quarterback Shai Werts, who’s still just a sophomore.

Werts was inconsistent last year, and what QB of a 2-10 team wouldn’t be? But the South Carolina native spent most of the season running for his life due to the team’s general chaos. As Bill Connelly astutely points out, 10 different players started at least one game on the offensive line in 2017.

DeBesse will need to install something much more cohesive and organized to honor the legacy of Option U. Should he do that, we’ll see what a true talent Werts really is.

Star running back Wesley Fields returns, as does Monteo Garrett. Below them on the depth chart, redshirt freshman Grant Walker or Logan Wright could become the next big name at the position. Overall, DeBesse is a common sense hire that should produce solid results. I can’t wait to see the first pitch.

Defensive Outlook: Eagle Nation will first have to accept the fact that our new defensive coordinator, Scot Sloan, spent the last decade sporting Appalachian State gear. I suspect all will be forgiven if his unit turns in a good year.

Sloan and Lunsford should work well together as they share a long history dating all the way back to their days at Griffin High School (fun fact: the stadium at Griffin is named for a distant relative of mine named Bill Haisten).

Defense never gets headlines at Georgia Southern. That said, it’s kinda important if you want to win football games. The secondary should be the standout unit thanks to seniors Joshua Moon, RJ Murray and Sean Freeman, along with excellent junior corner Monquavion Brinson. In front of them, Sloan is expected to install a 3-4 relying on speed to save the day.

With an opening slate of South Carolina State and UMass, Georgia Southern could jump to a confidence-building 2-0 before running into Clemson and the conference slate. Troy, Appalachian State and Arkansas State all come to Statesboro, and as we all know, if the option gets going the right way a score can turn lopsided quick.

If everything comes together and GS hits a winning streak, Lunsford’s fiery personality could quickly capture love from the national media and get Georgia Southern back in the spotlight it deserves. Let’s face it, the elbow drop makes “Row the Boat” sound like a children’s nursery rhyme. Or something like that.

Prediction: We’re going 6-6, we’ll be happy about it and we’re gonna beat Georgia State if I have to re-enroll in some obscure second bachelor’s program, jump on the team and carry the ball across the goal line myself.