#88 Georgia Southern Football 2016 Preview

Georgia Southern Eagles
Overall Rank: #88
#2 Sun Belt
Georgia Southern had another very successful season in the Sun Belt. They may have lost a conference game for the first time after going undefeated in 2014, but going 9-4 and handing it to Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl for their first ever bowl win is a good place to start. However, the success Georgia Southern had during their brief stint in the FBS has led to their first coaching change during the FBS era. Willie Fritz left for Tulane and Tyson Summers takes over the head coaching duties after his defensive coordinator stint at Colorado State.
2015 Record: 9-4, 6-2
2015 Bowl: GoDaddy Bowl vs. Bowling Green (W 58-27)
Coach: Tyson Summers (0-0 at Georgia Southern, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Rance Gillespie, David Dean
Defensive Coordinator: Lorenzo Corstantini
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Matt Breida, RB, 1,608 yards
Passing: Kevin Ellison, QB, 597 yards
Receiving: BJ Johnson III, WR, 249 yards
Tackles: Ironhead Gallon, LB, 81
Sacks: Benard Dawson, DE, 4.0, Ironhead Gallon, LB, 4.0
Interceptions: Darius Jones, Jr., CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB L.A. Ramsby, RB Wesley Fields, OL Andy Kwon, DL Jay Ellison, DE Jamal Johnson, DE Ryan George
Key Losses: WR Derek Keaton, OL Darien Foreman, DB Antonio Glover, LB Antowione Williams, S Matt Dobson, DB Caleb Williams
Coach Summers knows exactly what he will get out of this offense. There is a slew of talent returning to an offense that ranked first in the nation in rushing offense with 363.0 yards per game and 25th in scoring offense with 36.5 points per game. This group is explosive and will not miss a beat under the new staff. Senior quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Fabian Upshaw are back to lead the Georgia Southern option offense. Ellison threw for 597 yards and four touchdowns and was the more effective quarterback. He also ran for 712 yards and eight scores. As everybody always says, it would be nice to get more efficiency out of the passing game, but that is actually quite feasible this year with Ellison boasting plenty of experience. Of course, it is on the ground where things really matter. And Georgia Southern is absolutely loaded at running back. Matt Breida rushed for a team high 1,608 yards and 17 touchdowns, while L.A. Ramsby added 816 yards and 13 scores. Also back are Wesley Fields, Chaz Thornton, Demarcus Godfrey and Noah Hickey. Returning absolutely everybody to a backfield that led the country in rushing should leave Georgia Southern feeling really good about their offense.
The losses on defense are much more abundant. However, that is not the case on the line where Bernard Dawson, Jamal Johnson, Logan Hunt and Nardo Govan all return at the end spots and Jay Ellison and Darius Sapp will man the tackle positions. Dawson proved to be the most effective pass rusher of the group last year, but Hunt is a very promising sophomore who could emerge as the team’s top pass rushing threat. At linebacker, the Eagles have to find a way to replace leading tackler Antwione Williams. It could prove to be an easy fix with Florida State transfer Ukeme Eligwe eligible for the 2016 campaign. The secondary was the one spot on the field that was senior heavy in 2015. Four contributing cornerbacks are gone and so are the two starting safeties. That leaves corner Darius Jones as the most experienced player in the secondary. After that, there is not a lot of experience. Former quarterback Vegas Harley, who played a little cornerback last year, is making the move to strong safety in an effort to bolster the unit. But the coaching staff will still have to rely quite heavily on freshmen and that could be trouble for the secondary.
The Bottom Line:
Even if the defense takes a small step back, this is still a Georgia Southern squad that will battle for the top spot in the Sun Belt. The biggest game of the year could come on October 27th when Appalachian State comes to town. The Sun Belt could be decided right there. However, the Eagles do need to survive four straight road games leading up to that showdown with the Mountaineers. They play at Western Michigan, Arkansas State, Georgia Tech and New Mexico State from September 24th to October 22nd. That is a tough stretch and includes three games that Georgia Southern could lose, including that tough conference game against Arkansas State. With a loss to Arkansas State, Georgia Southern would almost have to beat Appalachian State if they wanted to win the Sun Belt title.
Projected Bowl: GoDaddy Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 363.0 (1st in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 63.4 (127, 11)
Total Offense: 426.4 (46, 6)
Scoring Offense: 36.5 (25, 3)
Rushing Defense: 130.9 (26, 1)
Pass Defense: 207.2 (40, 4)
Total Defense: 338.1 (21, 2)
Scoring Defense: 23.5 (38, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.46 (31, 2)
Sacks: 1.69 (91, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 0.62 (3, 1)