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My Take 11/22 - GSU confident entering playoffs


After watching the Georgia Southern football team’s effort and execution during a 45-21 loss to Alabama, I have no doubt the Eagles would have beaten Southeastern Conference teams Mississippi (2-9, 0-7), Mississippi State (5-6, 1-6), Kentucky (4-7, 1-6), Tennessee (5-6, 1-6) and Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6) had they played each other Saturday.

But GSU (9-2) remains No. 3 in The Sports Network/ Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 College Football Poll this week. The Southern Conference champion Eagles are behind No. 1 Sam Houston State (11-0) and No. 2 Northern Iowa (9-2).

As I’ve said before, rankings don’t matter until the season ends. What matters is GSU gained respect from Alabama (10-1).

"They congratulated us (on the effort) and said they hope we win the (FCS) national championship," GSU B-back Dominique Swope said.

What matters more is GSU gained confidence in itself going into the FCS playoffs.

"Going into the playoffs after just playing Alabama, we did pretty good," GSU A-back Johnathan Bryant said. "We wish we would have won, but the outcome is still good. It does give us a little bit of adrenaline. We know that we can do it. Only we can beat ourselves."

GSU received one of 12 first-round byes when the FCS pairings were announced by the NCAA on Sunday morning. This will be the Eagles’ 18th appearance in the FCS playoffs. They have won an FCS-best six national championships.

GSU will play Dec. 3 at Paulson Stadium against the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 10 Old Dominion (9-2) and No. 19 Norfolk State (9-2).

If GSU beats the Old Dominion-Norfolk State winner, the Eagles will play the No. 9 Appalachian State (8-3)-No. 13 Maine (8-3) winner in the Dec. 9-10 quarterfinals at Paulson Stadium. Appalachian State beat GSU, 24-17, on Oct. 29 in Boone, N.C.

Barring any upsets, the third-seeded Eagles will travel to play second-seeded and No. 4 North Dakota State (10-1) in the Dec. 16-17 semifinals.

I believe GSU will be there.

The championship game is Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

I believe GSU will be there, too.

My belief stems from what I witnessed against Alabama. Many among the crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, myself included, were astonished at how well GSU played. I heard more than one reference in the press box to Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.

"We just went out there slugging," GSU cornerback Laron Scott said. "We knew we weren’t going to be the biggest, be the fastest. It’s that way in a lot of games that we play. But we know we can control how tough we are. And that’s one thing we pride ourselves on."

Before the game, I told my co-worker Vince Johnson that I thought GSU would lose by 21 points, 34-13. I figured Adrian Mora would kick two field goals and an extra point, and Scott would score a touchdown by returning an interception, punt or kickoff.

Instead, GSU lost by 24 points, 45-21. Alabama blocked Mora’s field-goal attempt and returned it for a 55-yard touchdown. It was the first GSU kick blocked and returned for a touchdown in the program’s 30-year history.

Scott returned an Alabama kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown that cut the Crimson Tide’s lead to 10 points, 31-21, with 7:03 left in the third quarter.

Alabama certainly did not think running back Trent Richardson, its Heisman Trophy candidate, would still have to play midway through the fourth quarter. But there he was. The Eagles forced Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban to keep Richardson in the game.

"I definitely think playing in a game like this can help us down the road," GSU quarterback Jaybo Shaw said. "We’ve got a lot of tape to watch so we can definitely get better on missed assignments and see what we could have done better. Credit Alabama. They made the plays when they needed to be made. We just came up short."

GSU came up short on the scoreboard but, like Rocky Balboa, the Eagles went the distance. They proved they could take the hits and keep moving forward.


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.