It's been a wild year in Georgia Southern athletics. Four Southern Conference titles and four postseason bids including three NCAA tournaments were great, but let's not bury the lede.
Georgia Southern is going to the Football Bowl Subdivision's Sun Belt Conference.
Ever since GSU President Brooks Keel announced his intention to move the program to the FBS, things have moved fast. Former director of athletics Sam Baker, well, stepped aside, and Tom Kleinlein was hired. He officially started in January, and GSU accepted an invitation to the Sun Belt in March.
The announcement was met with a little bit of resistance from some of the Eagle Nation, but now that it's sinking in that Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Davidson and Elon are also jumping off the SoCon ship, and Furman (per the rumor mill), Chattanooga and maybe even Samford (per the even-less-reliable-but-not-without-a-little-substance rumor mill) are on their way out of the league, or at the very least, are beginning to think that the grass is greener elsewhere, it's pretty clear that the SoCon is just no longer right for the Eagles.
The 2013-14 athletics season will mark the end of the SoCon era for GSU.
As for what actually happened on the playing field, football and women's soccer set the tone for what turned into a pretty successful season.
The football Eagles actually clinched a share of the SoCon title the day they lost to Appalachian State, and turned the program's 19th Football Championship Subdivision (and/or I-AA) playoff appearance into the third-straight and 13th-ever trip to the semifinals.
The season ended against North Dakota State, again, in what turned out to be the final FCS playoff game for the storied program.
The Eagles leave the FCS with a 45-13 record in the playoffs. The 45 playoff wins and six national titles are the best in the nation. GSU finished its historical run with an overall playoff record of 33-3 in Paulson Stadium.
The women's soccer team made history, rocking a 10-8-5 record and the program's first-ever SoCon title. The Eagles lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament.
The season got coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel noticed. She left the program after only two years to take over the program at Virginia Commonwealth.
Volleyball lived up to regular-season expectations, winning the SoCon South Division title, but was upset in the SoCon tournament semifinals by Furman
Basketball didn't fare too well during the winter.
In Chris Vozab's first year, she didn't have a whole lot to work with on the women's side. Though the Eagles finished just 8-23, they did advance in the SoCon tournament with a win over Western Carolina.
The men also advanced, with a win over Wofford, but an underwhelming, 14-19 record wasn't enough to buy coach Charleton Young a fifth season. The Eagles finished 43-84 under Young, a Georgia Southern Hall of Famer as a player from 1989-1993.
Kleinlein made his first major hire at GSU, bringing in Mark Byington, an unproven head coach with a lot of upside and high praise from the NCAA coaching ranks.
Spring was incredibly kind to GSU, which gained NCAA tournament bids in softball and golf.
Golf — the only sport other than baseball which has ever gained access to the NCAA's via an at-large bid (not counting FCS at-large bids for football) — did it again, advancing to the Columbus, Ohio Regional.
Softball won the SoCon tournament for the second time in as many seasons under coach Annie Smith, and despite being eliminated by a pair of losses to South Florida, made a statement when Sarah Purvis tossed her second perfect game of the season, against Hampton.
And, the two-time SoCon Pitcher of the Year is just a junior, so how about that.
The baseball team suffered its first losing season under coach Rodney Hennon, yet still advanced to the semifinals of the SoCon tournament.
The Eagles finished 27-31. Not great, but just about as bad as its ever gotten for GSU.
If that's as bad as it gets, you can't be too upset about the Eagles' prospects in 2014.
Speaking of next year, it'll be interesting to see what happens with all sports. It'll be the last year in the SoCon — with the possible exception of men's soccer, which the Sun Belt doesn't offer — so it'll be pretty much everyone's last chance to leave a mark on the league.
That goes for football, too. Even though GSU and Appalachian State can't win the SoCon, they'll do everything they can to make sure whoever does win it will do it with a 5-3 record in the league.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.