Although they were ineligible for the Southern Conference championship in 2013, Georgia Southern University’s Eagles were picked to finish with the best record in the league.
Junior fullback Dominique Swope, who rushed for 1,246 yards in 2012, was back on a team that advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals. Also, senior quarterback Jerick McKinnon was a returner for the Eagles, simply adding to the expectations that head coach Jeff Monken’s squad would impress.
Early reviews were positive. The Eagles blew out Savannah State University 77-9 in the season opener, and followed it up with a 59-17 thrashing of St. Francis University of Pennsylvania.
From there, the Eagles ran headlong into Wofford College, the favorite of the eligible teams for the Southern Conference title. The Terriers scored a 30-20 win, but more importantly, it was the final game Swope would participate in to this point. Gaining 74 yards on 15 carries, offseason shoulder surgery “caught up” with Swope and he has been sidelined since.
Without their star runner, the Eagles have struggled to operate the triple option offense. On two occasions, back-to-back losses to Appalachian State University and Furman University, the usually high-powered Eagles offense only scored 14 points. However, defense has also been a problem in Statesboro, Ga. In the Eagles’ loss to Samford University, the team gave up 44 points on a good day for the offense — they scored 34.
The underachievement (currently 5-4, 3-4 in conference) of the Eagles raises a question: do they care? The Eagles have nothing to play for. No conference title, no playoffs, simply an 11-game slate of games in a lame duck year in the Southern Conference. It is difficult to get young men used to the FCS playoffs fired up when the playoffs are impossible to reach. Sure, football is exciting, but when there is absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel, you are not as likely to exude the same passion.
Next year, Georgia Southern heads off to the Sun Belt Conference, part of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Since both the Eagles and Appalachian State, who will join them in the SoCon-Sun Belt move, have struggled, you have to wonder just how concerned Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson is. Only time will tell how Georgia Southern will fare against the University of Idaho, Troy University or the University of Louisiana at Monroe. As everyone knows, the elusive GoDaddy.com Bowl is every Georgia Southern player’s dream.
So, just what went wrong in Statesboro? Was it injuries, lack of motivation or both? The Eagles will play their final SoCon game ever on Saturday against Elon University in Rhodes Stadium. The motivation? Salvage a .500 conference record.