As pre-season polls begin to trickle out it’s pretty apparent that not too many people believe in the Georgia Southern football team. The Vegas odds have the Eagles over/under at just 4 ½ games which means oddsmakers think the Eagles win total will be 4-5 games. Even the Sun Belt coaches have the Eagles picked fourth in a five-team division.
All the doubters just seem to fuel the fire of Eagle head coach Chad Lunsford who was pretty clear this week at the Sun Belt Media Day in New Orleans that he and his team relish the role of being underdogs.
“We have something to prove, we have a chip on our shoulder,” said Lunsford. “There’s not many people right now that believe in Georgia Southern other than our university, our fan base and the guys in that locker room. We like that. We like having the chip on our shoulder and to have to prove what we are about.”
The Eagles are coming off three straight bowl appearances under Lunsford including a 38-3 rout of Louisiana Tech in the R&L Carriers Bowl in New Orleans. Despite an 8-5 record the Eagles were only 4-4 in conference play. Three of those losses came by a touchdown or less and the Eagles were either winning or tied entering the fourth quarter in every game last season.
The Eagles made some changes last season, most notably promoting Doug Ruse to offensive coordinator. Lunsford is hoping to build off some momentum the offense showed toward the end of last year under Ruse into this season.
“We made some changes on the offensive staff in order to be a more attacking offense,” said Lunsford. “I think you will see an even more attacking offense this season.
One of the reasons many people are predicting the Eagles will struggle this year is because of their schedule. Georgia Southern will play at Arkansas Sept. 18 and has to travel to Troy and Appalachian State this year. Home matchups are highlighted by a visit from Coastal Carolina and arguably the highest profile team to visit Paulson Stadium as BYU comes to call Nov. 20.
“I love our out of conference schedule this year,” said Lunsford. “We open up at home against Gardner Webb then head down to Florida Atlantic. We get to play Arkansas at Arkansas and then have BYU coming to Paulson Stadium. As far as our conference schedule goes I have a great respect for the teams and coaches in our conference. You have to come ready to play each and every week.”
In addition to their schedule, one of the biggest knocks against the Eagles comes from the uncertainty at quarterback this year. Four-year starter Shai Werts is gone and there isn’t a lot of experience returning at quarterback. Justin Tomlin filled in a couple games for Werts but was injured in the Appalachian State game. Sam Kenerson only saw two snaps last year and behind him is true freshman Cam Ransom who has yet to see the field for a college game.
“Quarterback is the position you have to make sure you have right,” said Lunsford. “If we were to play tomorrow Justin Tomlin would be our starting quarterback. His experience, hard work and what he has done to this point has earned him that opportunity. At Georgia Southern with what we do I feel it’s important to keep that position competitive. Our quarterbacks are dual threat guys and injuries can happen.”
I am looking forward to a battle in training camp with the quarterback position,” said Lunsford. “Sam Kenerson only played two plays last year but he is a guy that can be a game changer for us and he would go in as the back up right now. Cam Ransom is a guy who has come on campus and has really impressed us. He is a guy we are really excited about who has a great work ethic.”
One player who looked to be in the mix to fill in for Werts was Georgia Tech transfer James Graham. A four-star quarterback out of high school Graham grabbed headlines when he committed to transferring to Georgia Southern. Graham missed most of spring practice and then word came out he was no longer with the tea. His name then resurfaced earlier this month as it was revealed he had switched positions from quarterback to wide receiver.
“James Graham is a guy who we really want on our football team,” said Lunsford. “He can really make a difference for us. There were some adjustments he had to make from Georgia Tech. There were some things we had to make sure we took care of including making sure he was going to be okay academically. He has not gotten enough invested reps at the quarterback position so we felt like the best thing to do as of now was to move him to the wide receiver spot to give us an opportunity to get him on the field.”
Staying with the quarterback position according to his Twitter page the Eagles offered a scholarship to Eastern Michigan quarterback Jarius Grissom who was in the transfer portal. Grissom has yet to decide on a destination, but the Eagles did land Army West Point Prep quarterback Quincy Bonner.
Georgia Southern begins preseason practice Aug. 6.