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Eagles picked in the middle of the pack
Appalachian State voted first, GSU voted fourth in both polls, several Eagles earn preseason honors
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Pete Lembo audio

Elon head coach Pete Lembo talks about the format of the new FCS football poll.

            GREENVILLE, S.C. – Georgia Southern senior playmaker Jayson Foster glanced at the Southern Conference preseason polls Tuesday morning and quickly made a very valid point.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” he said with his ever-present optimism. “That’s the main thing.”

League coaches and media picked the Eagles to finish fourth – behind two-time defending national champion Appalachian State, Furman and Wofford. The Citadel was in the fifth spot followed by Elon, Chattanooga and Western Carolina. The preseason polls were announced at the league’s annual football rouser.

Under first-year coach Chris Hatcher – the lone new head coach in the conference this season – the Eagles are looking to bounce back from last year’s 3-8 mark, the worst since the school revived the sport in the early 1980s.

            “Picked fourth after a 3-8 season isn’t too bad, but we want to finish No. 1 – that’s our main goal right now,” said Foster, who was named to the preseason All-SoCon First Team as a wide receiver.

            As they work to regain their previously familiar spot atop the SoCon, the Eagles said they’ll keep last season on their minds but try not to dwell on it.

“Going 3-8 was really disappointing last year,” said senior right tackle Russell Orr, a Second-Team selection. “We want to learn from that. There are teams that beat us last year that we aren’t used to losing to, and we’ve got some payback. That’s motivation.”

Junior defensive end Larry Beard was also a Second-Team pick, while Appalachian running back Kevin Richardson and defensive back Corey Lynch were named preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.

            The Eagles report to fall camp Aug. 4, begin practice Aug. 6 and host West Georgia for the season opener Sept. 8.


New FCS Coaches Poll

            Beginning next month, Football Championship Subdivision coaches will unveil their own Top 25 poll, which SoCon leaders hope will have better credibility and give a more accurate reflection of FCS football than current polls.

            “There are a lot of polls out there, but who votes in them?” said Elon coach Pete Lembo. “Who votes consistently? Is it fans? Some coaches? Are they skewed in different ways? If you have a poll that nobody knows what went into it, then nobody trusts what’s coming out of it.”

            Lembo, who served as the president of the FCS Executive Committee last school year, played a role in establishing the new poll. Twenty-eight head coaches from all 14 FCS conferences will vote, allowing fans to know precisely who cast ballots every week.

            “We are always looking for ways to promote our institutions and our level of football, and we think this poll will be an excellent tool to do so,” Lembo said. “As coaches, it’s our jobs to know who the best teams are in the country and to know the strength and weaknesses of the teams in the different conferences.”

            The FCS Coaches Poll will begin with a preseason poll Aug. 20 and continue through the end of the regular season with the final poll released Nov. 19. This season the SoCon will sponsor the poll along with a web page displaying it, league scores, standings and various features on FCS programs.


A 24-team playoff?

            There’s been talk of expanding the FCS playoff field from 16 teams to 24, a move Wofford coach Mike Ayers favors. His Terriers feel they’ve been slighted by the playoff committee in the past, particularly in 2002 when they went 9-3 and again in ‘04 after posting an 8-3 record. Wofford advanced to the semifinals in ‘03.

            “Quite frankly, there are teams that are left out in our league that are worthy,” Ayers said. “If you expand it, it’s more opportunity for our classification of ball to get out there. Some of the best football that I’ve seen in the past two years has been Appalachian when they’ve played on TV or Furman. It’s a great brand of football, and I think we definitely need to champion that cause and expand to 24 teams.”

            Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.