Georgia Southern’s football team must win one of its four remaining games to become eligible for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Eagles’ 62-21 victory over Tusculum College on Sept. 10 does not count toward playoff eligibility because the Pioneers compete in NCAA Division II.
That means No. 1 GSU (7-0, 5-0) must either beat No. 5 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday, The Citadel (3-4, 2-4) on Nov. 5, No. 9 Wofford (5-2, 3-1) on Nov. 12 or Alabama (8-0 in the Football Bowl Subdivision, No. 2 in The Associated Press poll) on Nov. 19.
If the Eagles upset Alabama, a statue of GSU head coach Jeff Monken likely would be built outside of Paulson Stadium. Let’s face it, the Eagles have a slim chance of beating the Crimson Tide. That trims GSU’s opportunities to become playoff eligible to three games.
It won’t be easy for GSU against Appalachian State or Wofford. The Eagles must go on the road for both games. Fortunately for GSU, a home game against The Citadel is sandwiched between the Appalachian State and Wofford games.
There is little doubt that GSU will crush The Citadel. But what if the Eagles lose to both Appalachian State and Wofford? Would seven victories against FCS opponents be enough for GSU to qualify for the playoffs?
“It has to be seven FCS or FBS wins to even qualify,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said after a practice this week. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to get in. It’s one of those things where you try to do the best you can throughout the year because you know that that’s there. We just focus on this game and try to be prepared as best we can for App State, which is a great team.”
I’ve heard several people say they believe Wofford will be GSU’s toughest opponent. I disagree. I think Appalachian State poses the biggest threat to the Eagles. If GSU loses to the Mountaineers then I believe the Eagles must beat Wofford to get into the playoffs. Simply beating The Citadel won’t suffice.
“Every week, if you’re in the position that we’re fortunate enough to be in, each week gets bigger,” Monken said. “Each game gets bigger. The next one is the biggest game of the year. And this certainly is. This is, by far, the best opponent we’ve faced all year, and it’s the biggest game that we’ve had this year. I just want to get our guys to prepare the best that they can.”
As expected, both Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore and GSU’s Monken praised each other’s programs this week. Monken even went so far as to say, “They’re a lot more talented than we are. They’re faster. They’re bigger.”
I don’t buy that for a second. But I am fluent in coach-speak, and Monken is saying all the right things. Moore is, too.
“Right now, we’re focusing on one game and one game only,” Monken said when asked about the Eagles’ four remaining opponents. “When that’s done, we’ll focus on the next one. Good, bad or in between, we go on to the next one and focus on that.
“We’re still trying to get better. There’s a lot of areas where we can improve, and I hope that our guys will improve. We’re going to need to. We’re going to need to play a lot better than we’ve played this week if we’re going to have a chance to beat Appalachian. They’re extremely talented, a great football team.”
To me, GSU’s season boils down to two games: Appalachian State and Wofford. If the Eagles lose to the Mountaineers, beating the Terriers will become urgent. If the Eagles beat Appalachian State, beating Wofford won’t be as urgent in terms of securing a playoff spot, but there is no doubt that GSU wants to be 10-0 before going to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.