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Something to play for in 2013
120812 GSU FOOTBALL 07
Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon (1) shushes the Old Dominion student section at Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va., in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, after scoring a touchdown to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter in this Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, file photo. The Eagles won 49-35. Though the Eagles didn't know it at the time, it was the last FCS playoff win in program history. Georgia Southern will be ineligible for the playoffs in 2013 as it prepares to move to the Sun Belt Conference of the Football Bowl Subdivision. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    The Georgia Southern Eagles aren't eligible for the Southern Conference title in 2013.
    They can't make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, either.
    Because Georgia Southern is in transition to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision's Sun Belt Conference in 2014, you could say the Eagles don't have anything to play for this year.
    Just don't say it to them.
    "This is something special," said GSU defensive lineman Josh Gebhardt, who will play his final season as an Eagle this fall. "The seniors and the rest of the team are more than happy to set the foundation for the future. I'm just happy to be a part of that. I'm looking forward to this last year, and it's been a great three seasons so far. There's no regrets. Laying the foundation is important, and if the seniors and this team have to do that, that's what we're going to do."
    Besides, if the Eagles win more Southern Conference games than anybody else in the fall, it'll be because they're the best team in the league.
    "If we go 8-0 in the Southern Conference, I think it's hard to argue that we're not the Southern Conference champions," GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. "That's been our goal every year that I've been here. We're going to try to win a Southern Conference championship this year, and I don't care who acknowledges it. We'll acknowledge it, and all that matters to me is us."
    While the news of the postseason ineligibility was a hard pill to swallow for many on the team, the 2013 goals are still intact.
    "To tell you the truth, we're playing for a lot," GSU quarterback Jerick McKinnon, also a rising senior, said. "We're still playing for the SoCon. We're still playing for an undefeated season. We've got a lot of team goals that we set for ourselves."
    "Nobody can argue perfection," Gebhardt added. "That's our goal  to win the SoCon outright, and win every game on our schedule next year."
    The program won't have a shot at an unprecedented seventh FCS (formerly I-AA) national championship, a goal that fell short in the semifinals in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
    "The fact of the matter is that we've had a shot at that national championship game three times. We've been in the semifinals for the last three years. They've all had their shot," Monken said. "We'd love to have another shot, and we're disappointed that we don't. But that's where we're at in the history of our program right now. There was going to be a season where we weren't going to be able to do that. There was just going to come a time, if we were going to make this move, and now is the time. It's a great opportunity for this senior class to make their mark and leave a legacy for the teams that follow."
    Though the current team is paving the way for the program to move to the FBS, Monken isn't ready to call them trailblazers, yet.
    "We'll see what we do this year. If we win a bunch of games and have a great season, maybe people will call them that," Monken said. "If we don't, if we feel sorry for ourselves because somebody tells us, 'We can't play for this, we can't play for that,' I'd call us trailblazers alright. There haven't been many teams that have lost around here. We'll be trailblazers, going in the wrong direction."
    Offensive coordinator Brent Davis isn't too concerned about that.
    "Any time you put on that blue helmet with the white stripe and the numbers on the side, you've got a lot to play for," Davis said. "They're not just playing for the other guys on the team, they're playing for the guys that came before them. The tradition lives on."
    The talk of a lost postseason will fade as the season approaches. After all, there's still 11 football games to play in 2013.
     "I think that we're all excited for the future," Gebhardt said, "and besides, once those pads come on, all that stuff goes out the window."

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