A Southern Conference championship and berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs are assured.
Georgia Southern punched those two tickets with its 31-10 win at Wofford on Saturday. However, the Eagles have unfinished business before they head to the playoffs.
GSU head coach Jeff Monken’s team wraps up regular season play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tuscaloosa, Ala., when it takes on powerful Alabama. Both teams are ranked No. 3 in their respective divisions, GSU in the FCS, and the Tide in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The game with Alabama will have special meaning for the Eagles, but it will be especially meaningful to middle linebacker Josh Rowe.
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior is one of two players on GSU's roster from Alabama, a state to which the Eagles seldom venture for recruits.
“Georgia Southern recruited K.R. (Snipes), who was a year ahead of me,” Rowe said. “Coach (Chris) Hatcher and his coaches had contacts in Alabama. Then the next year they brought me and Brent Osborne, a quarterback from Valley, in.”
Snipes is a redshirt junior linebacker who started as a freshman — he was on the Southern Conference’s All Freshman team — and sophomore before missing all of last year with a knee injury from which he is struggling to recover.
Osborne was redshirted and transferred after Monken was hired as Hatcher’s replacement, and installed the triple-option offense.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Rowe said of playing the Crimson Tide. “We’re an underdog and I understand that. It’s a great atmosphere at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“Coach (Nick) Saban is a great coach, and they have great tradition,” Rowe said. “They are a great team, and I emphasize great, and we have to prepare like a champion this week, but who wouldn’t want to play them?”
Rowe grew up in Opelika, Ala., a short drive from Auburn, and he was a Tigers fan growing up although he has attended Alabama games.
In high school he was a three-year starter and made the Class 6A all-state team his junior and senior years. The state’s two major programs bypassed him because at 5-foot-11 they did not think he was big enough to play at their level.
Rowe’s high school coach, Spence McCracken, praised him for his academics while saying, “he’s the best linebacker I coached in 35 years.”
“Auburn was my team,” Rowe said. “But, my dream was getting the opportunity to play college football for someone. Getting to come here (Georgia Southern) is like a dream come true. I love it here, love my coaches and I love my teammates.”
Rowe, who had off-season knee surgery last winter and sat out spring practice, led the Eagles in tackles last year with 104 and was a second-team All-SoCon pick.
He was a major player in the Eagles' drive to the conference championship this year, the school’s ninth and first since 2004. Rowe’s 53 tackles are one behind Deion Stanley’s team-high 54.
Rowe is quick to point out that beating Wofford to clinch the SoCon title is but one step toward a greater goal.
“Saturday we got a chance to be a champion,” Rowe said. “It was a great feeling, a good highlight, but not the highlight. We’ve got other goals.”
The Eagles will learn Sunday who they play and when in the playoffs.
GSU is all but assured of getting a first round bye, and in all likelihood will earn a top-four seed, which assures it of playing at home until the semifinals.