SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Georgia Southern’s football team on Thursday was selected the preseason favorite in balloting conducted by the Southern Conference’s head coaches and media.
GSU is the preseason No. 1 in the coaches poll for the first time since 2003. The Eagles earned 63 points with seven first-place votes.
In the media poll, GSU earned 266 points and 25 of 30 first-place votes.
"It doesn’t matter," said GSU head coach Jeff Monken, who attended SoCon Media Day at the Spartanburg Marriott. "The preseason all-conference list and the preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing. And it’s because it’s preseason. Nobody’s played a game."
Three GSU players were selected to the SoCon’s Preseason All-Conference First Team in voting conducted by league’s head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own players. Senior defensive lineman Brent Russell was named to the first team defense along with sophomore defensive back Deion Stanley. Russell also was chosen SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. Junior offensive lineman Dorian Byrd was named to the first team offense.
The Eagles had three players selected to the second team. Senior offensive lineman Blake DeBartola was named to the second team offense. Senior linebacker Darius Eubanks was selected to the second team defense. Senior return specialist Darreion Robinson was voted a second team specialist.
"I think the honors come at the end of the year, and people recognize what kind of season each of the players had, and they vote," said Monken, whose Eagles won the SoCon last season with a 7-1 record in league play (11-3 overall). "It’s nice for the kids to be recognized but it doesn’t mean anything. And, hopefully, our kids value more what we do as a team and our accomplishments as a team than they do an individual honor or recognition. And certainly that’s more important to me as a coach."
Eubanks, who attended Thursday’s event with Monken and senior tight end Tyler Sumner, said the only thing on his mind is advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for a third consecutive season. The FCS national championship game is Jan. 5, 2013, in Frisco, Texas.
"It’s a blessing to make it to the semifinals back-to-back," Eubanks said. "Some people never make it to a Final Four one year. For us to do it three years, that would be a major blessing. Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will be back in the Final Four and this year, hopefully, we can get over that hump and be in Frisco, Texas, come January."
GSU players report to fall camp Tuesday. Their first practice will be at 2:45 p.m. Thursday on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek.
"We’ve been out there all summer long running in (the heat)," said Sumner, a former Savannah Christian standout. "You get used to it. It helps so much. Most of our guys stay (on campus) all summer long to work out, get in shape and get used to that heat because if you’re not used to it, it can be brutal in camp."
Sumner said he and GSU’s other seniors are telling the team’s younger players not to buy into the preseason No. 1 hype.
"That doesn’t mean anything," Sumner said. "We’ve still got to prepare every day for our next opponent. It really doesn’t mean anything in the scheme of things. You’ve still got to play. Just because you’re No. 1 you can’t walk on the field and think you’re going to win. Last year’s team is gone. This is a whole new team, a brand new team. We can’t rely on what we did last year. We have to make a whole new season.
"Definitely there is a danger (in believing the hype). People sometimes can think they’re better than what they are. You’ve got to stay humble and keep that edge."
Monken said the Eagles embrace their No. 1 ranking in a league that he said has as much parity and is as competitive as it has ever been.
"There’s probably a target on everybody’s back," Monken said. "I know everybody we play each week, we’ve got a target on their back. We want to win every game. And it doesn’t matter how many players we have or anybody else has on the all-conference team. The bottom line is we’ve got to get ours to play better on Saturday than theirs."
GSU’s season opener is at 6 p.m. Sept. 1 against Jacksonville (Fla.) University. Players who took summer classes had final exams Thursday. Monken soon will learn if any of them are academically ineligible for the season.
"We get all of the results at the end of today, tomorrow, early next week," Monken said. "And we feel pretty good about where everybody is at. We’ll have the results, at the latest, early next week and we anticipate that everybody should be in good shape."
Monken on Thursday said GSU will enter fall camp, and likely the season, with two players at quarterback: sophomore Ezayi "Izzy" Youyoute and junior Jerick McKinnon.
"I thought both of our quarterbacks had a good spring," Monken said. "Both of them will play quarterback. There’s enough things that both of them do well in the quarterback position that we’re not comfortable taking either one of them out of the quarterback position and playing them somewhere else exclusively.
"It will be very likely for us to have both of them in the game at the same time in the huddle, one playing quarterback and one playing another skill position on offense, and interchanging as each game goes along and as the season progresses. I see us playing both guys at quarterback."
Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.