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Sizing up the GSU Eagles
121011 GSU FOOTBALL 01
Will the Eagles still be playing football in December? They've got some work to do.

It seems like everybody's got a preseason Top 25 poll these days, and in the case of the Football Championship Subdivision, they've all got Georgia Southern in the top three.
    When you've gone to the semifinals of the playoffs two years in a row, and you score as many points as the Eagles do, it stands to reason that you'd think they'll do it again.
    The 2010 and 2011 GSU teams looked very similar on both sides of the ball, but all of a sudden, despite returning all of the starters at the offensive skill positions, a bulk of the offensive line and all but one of the front seven on defense, all you have to do is scratch the surface before you realize that the 2012 edition of the Eagles has changed  lot.
    It's time we take a look at some of the strengths and possible weaknesses that GSU will bring to the field two Saturdays from now.

    Georgia Southern just got more athletic at the quarterback position. Go ahead, ask anyone — even Jaybo Shaw.
    Whether it's Izzy Youyoute or Jerick McKinnon taking the snap, you can add another home run threat to the backfield that wasn't there for a majority of 2011.
    Still,  with Jaybo, you knew what you were getting.
    Experience is absolutely, positively, without a question, the most important asset an option quarterback can have. Just take a look at 2005 and Jayson Foster — a sophomore whose freakish talent covered up a lot of inexperience.
    Youyoute and McKinnon have some quicks and some moves with the football, and honestly both probably throw the ball a bit better than Foster did, but can they shred a defense over and over like Foster did? And can they run the offense?
    If the ball starts hitting the ground early in the season and Youyoute and McKinnon are relegated to getting in the gun and looking for a seam to run into (think Foster in 2007), it may be time to hit the panic button.
    It was fun to watch in 2007, but 7-4 in 2012 would be considered a pretty massive letdown -- not to mention the fact that nobody is quite ready to crown Youyoute or McKinnon the next Jayson Foster.

Clearing the way
    When you lose guys like Brett Moore, William Maxwell and Brandavious Mann to graduation, there's bound to be some growing pains on the offensive line.
    While we're on the topic of the o-line, we might as well mention tight ends, A-backs and wide receivers, too — the o-line stretches from sideline to sideline in Jeff Monken's offense.
    Those are all vets and the perimeter looks to be pretty well sealed off, but if the o-line doesn't come together, there will be some long Saturdays for the GSU offense.
    The most important question to answer is -- Who will be the center? The Eagles threw the kitchen sink at center last season, and in 2012 the position comes down to two guys —Blake DeBartola and Manrey Saint-Amour.
    That may be the most important position battle going on at fall camp.

Isn't that special?
    After four record-setting years, one of the most (if not the most) solid special-teams units in GSU history graduated in 2011. With one swing of the bat (foot?), the Eagles have to replace Adrian Mora, Charlie Edwards and Carter Jones.
    Good luck with that.

The bread and butter
    Some say that the strength of GSU's 2012 team will be the skill positions on offense. Let's run down the list: McKinnon, Youyoute, Dominique Swope, J.B. Bryant, Robert Brown, Zach Walker, Kentrellis Showers, Seon Jones, Darreion Robinson, etc., etc., etc.
    They have skill, speed and strength for days.
    And if that's not the bread and butter of this team, that title may just belong to the defensive front seven.
    There's, of course, Brent Russell.
    There's Blake Riley, Josh Gebhardt and Terico Agnew.
    Remember how the d-line looked just a hair slower in 2011 than it did in 2010? That's because Dion DuBose was out with an injury. Well, he's back.
    John Stevenson, Kyle Oehlbeck and Darius Eubanks bring a ton of experience at linebacker, and Eagle fans are still holding their collective breath that Josh Rowe will be able to play.
    The secondary is made up of Lavelle Westbrooks, Deion Stanley, and after them, a transfer and an A-back. They're the ones who will be tested early and often by the 2012 schedule.

How do they stack up?
    On paper, this is the most talented offense Georgia Southern has put on the field in years.
    Talent can only get you so far, though.
    As mentioned, Jayson Foster covered up a lot with his out-of-this-world talent in 2005. It was even more evident in 2007 when the Eagles picked up wins on the road against an Appalachian State team that had already beaten Michigan and a Wofford team that had already beaten Appalachian State. That same team lost at home to Chattanooga and middle-of-the-pack Furman.
    The biggest thing the 2010 and 2011 Eagles had going for them was the fact that everybody understood their roles. As fall camp winds down, that's the biggest thing this edition of the Georgia Southern Eagles is still looking for.
    And they're running out of time to find it.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.