With a dominating 38-10 victory over Georgia State last week, the Georgia Southern football team certainly ended its regular season on a bright note. So it’s only fitting that the Eagles’ final stop of 2019 will take them to the Sunshine State.
On Sunday afternoon, Georgia Southern was offered, and accepted, an invitation to the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, to be held Dec. 21 in Orlando. The Eagles will take on Liberty, which will be making its first ever bowl appearance in just its second season of FBS play after posting a 7-5 mark as an Independent school this fall.
For Georgia Southern (7-5) this will mark a second consecutive trip to a bowl game. The Eagles won a thriller over Eastern Michigan in last season’s Camellia Bowl and are 2-0 overall in bowl games.
“This is an awesome opportunity for us,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “We talk a lot about leaving a legacy. For our seniors, we talk about how they want to leave this team. Being the first senior class to win back-to-back bowl games would be a great way to do it.”
This year’s bowl selection had much more drama involved than the Eagles’ two previous trips to the postseason.
The Sun Belt teams and bowl games appeared pretty cut-and-dried just a week ago. The conference has contracts with five bowls and five Sun Belt teams ended the season with the required six wins to become bowl eligible. There was to be the usual suspense over the order in which bowl games got to pick and which teams might get a closer location or favorable date, but that was about it.
Then came rumors midweek that Appalachian State - nationally ranked on on its way to a conference title - might be the target of other bowl games unaffiliated with the Sun Belt. While no official details of reported deals to move the Mountaineers to a different game have emerged, it was confirmed that no teams were officially locked into a bowl when Sunday began.
“The last 48 hours or so have definitely been stressful,” GS athletic director Tom Kleinlein said. “I think there were a lot of moving parts. I’m sure (Sun Belt Commissioner) Keith Gill and others were working to do whatever they could to highlight the strength of our league as a whole. That may have meant that things moved a little slow, but this is a great day for the Eagles and we’re looking forward to another great bowl week.”
Georgia Southern will depart for Orlando on Tuesday, Dec. 17. In addition to practices, the team will get to experience various fanfare events centered around Universal CityWalk and will also participate in a visit to the Orlando Health Cancer Center in conjunction with the Cure Bowl’s philanthropic goal of raising awareness and support in the battle against cancer.
BACK TO WORK
As soon as Lunsford exited Sunday’s press conference, he was right back on the job.
There is a bowl game to prep for, but the most pressing concern this week is with recruiting. The December signing day is just over a week away and Lunsford and many of his coaches will be covering all sorts of ground as they try to lock down commitments for this season’s signing class.
“It’s a big week for everyone,” Lunsford said. “First and foremost, it’s finals week for our players. We expect them to finish strong in the classroom just like we do on the field. It’s a big week for recruiting, too. Our coaches are ready to grind.”
TAKING THE PARTY ON THE ROAD
An old t-shirt design at the Georgia Southern University Store used to proudly proclaim that, despite any losses on the scoreboard, the Eagle fan base never loses a party. That’s the sort of mentality the team is hoping its fans can bring as they make the trip south for the bowl game.
“I expect between eight and ten-thousand Eagles there,” GS athletic director Tom Kleinlein said. “It’s going to be three or four days of celebration around other Eagles. Not only does a bowl game let people celebrate accomplishments from the year, but it lets fans be around the team in some unique ways you don’t get during the regular season.”
The team will be at Universal’s CityWalk for a pair of events in which fans can join in. Previous bowl games have also gained a reputation for fun as everyone from students, to boosters, to administrators and former Eagle players have been known to keep parties going in the days leading up to the game.
FIGURING OUT THE FLAMES
Liberty took a rather unique road to its first bowl game.
Without any conference affiliation, the Flames were forced to cobble together all 12 games on their schedule instead of letting a conference slate take up two-thirds as is the case with most schools.
Liberty played its six road games in six different states, and that still wasn’t enough to qualify for the postseason. NCAA rules mandate six wins to become bowl-eligible, with only one win coming over an FCS opponent. That meant that Liberty needed its seventh victory on the final day of the regular season to get into the bowl picture.
That final game was also unique for college football as it was a rematch. Liberty claimed a home win over New Mexico State just over a month after beating NMSU in Las Cruces. The two independents were in a similar scheduling crisis, leading to the unorthodox home-and-home matchups within the same season.