The Georgia Southern football team eared their bowl eligibility after defeating Georgia State in their eighth game of the season when they were 6-2. Since then, they have dropped four straight games which is not the way they would have liked to have finished, but Sunday they got some much-needed good news as it was announced that they will be kicking off the 2023-24 bowl season against Ohio University in the Myrtle Beach Bowl Dec. 16 in Conway S.C.
“We are just so happy to be in post season play,” said Eagle coach Clay Helton. "Half the teams in the country are not getting this opportunity. To be going back-to-back, we are so thankful. How lucky are we to be going to Myrtle Beach which is a great place to go for our fans. You find out who you have and then you go immediately to work, and we have tried to begin to dive into what Ohio has as quick as we can.”
Being the first bowl game of the season, Helton knows there will be a lot of people watching which is even more exciting for the coaches and players.
“It is a great opportunity to be on a national stage on a weekend and be the first game has our kids excited,” Helton said. “We have the opportunity to have more wins than we did last year and to be a bowl champion, which is really important our football team. A lot of the players asked if we win the game do we get a ring and I explained that yes, they do. It is special to them.”
Helton also feels it will be good for the Eagle fan base to be able to play in a familiar venue that is only about four hours away from Statesboro.
“I feel like because of how we travel we are a popular bowl team,” Helton said. “The bowl committees want fans to be at the games and in the stands. We showed not only here at Paulson this year, but last year at our bowl game in Montgomery that we are an attractive team. There is also some comfort with going to a venue that you have been to before and an area you are somewhat familiar with.”
Helton has said since he got to Georgia Southern that he feels the Sun Belt Conference may be the best Group of Five conference in the NCAA. With 12 teams advancing to bowl games this postseason the Sun Belt Conference has the most teams of any conference playing in bowls this year.
“I thought this was a very important year for our conference,” Helton said. “I truly believe it is the premiere Group of Five conference in the country. You look and see 12 bowl teams and that is so important as far as respect and a resume goes. You have seen what we have done out of conference in the last two years, especially versus Power-5 teams and getting those wins. You saw a national story with JMU this year. Now you see 12 bowl teams which I think will be important as we expand playoffs as you want to be a part of a powerful league.”
As far as the competition goes in the actual bowl game itself Ohio University is 9-3 and what stands out the most about the Bobcats to coach Helton is what they have done on the defensive side of the ball.
“Congratulations to coach Tim Albin and the phenomenal job they have done this year,” Helton said. “What you see with them is a great team who jumps off the paper defensively. They are one of the top defenses in the country and are ranked in the top five in the NCAA in scoring defense. They are top four ranked in total defense and it will be a great challenge.”
The Eagles have nearly two weeks before getting the game underway and Helton is hoping the Eagles may be able to get a few players who are banged up back on the field including leading rusher Jalen White.
“There are some guys who will be right on the cusp as far as getting back on the field,” Helton said. “Jalen is one of those, and I know he really wants to play. We will have to see where he is heath wise with his ankle but I know his mindset is to play. Hopefully we will also get some other guys back. Our first practice for this game will be Wednesday, so I will have a little clearer picture of where guys are at as they have had a little time to heal from the Appalachian State game.”
Tickets to the Myrtle Beach Bowl are on sale now, starting at $30.