For college football fans, these truly are the dog days of summer.
Spring practices are long done with, kickoff on the new season is still well over a month away and the only practices going on are in the weight room, film room or loosely organized field work.
Over the last decade, the rapid rise in social media and information compilation has made this time of year the domain of the prognosticators. Certain websites are already posting preseason Top-25 polls, you can’t stroll past a magazine stand without seeing half a dozen copies of preview publications and even Las Vegas has already started posting odds on win totals and lines for the first week of the season.
Not only are people already predicting who will play for the national championship, most in-depth researchers have taken to ranking the top 50 players at each position and will divide your entire conference into team rankings by position group.
I won’t lie. At least one of those magazines takes up permanent residence in my house each summer and — because of that — I probably know too much about third string offensive linemen in the Sun Belt than will ever prove useful. But hey, like I said, dog days of summer and whatnot.
I — like countless others — have my thoughts about what Georgia Southern’s football team will achieve this season and how it will stack up against the rest of its conference. The thing is, I’ve been through enough preseasons to know that the projections and expectations laid on teams right now is almost always way off the mark.
Injuries, bad luck, a combination of injuries and bad luck to opponents and surprises — both pleasant and horrifying — are nearly guaranteed to make a person viewing July’s predictions during bowl season sit back and chuckle a bit.
So instead of projecting a quarterback race that could still go any number of ways or try to predict exactly what offensive coordinator Bryan Cook’s take on the option will look like, I’m going to treat the run-up to the season like a new class.
Here’s a syllabus for the 2017 Eagles and what they’re looking forward to covering this fall.
Week 1: No one said this was going to be an easy class for Georgia Southern. The Eagles will get a finals-grade test right out of the gate as they kick off the season at Auburn. The Tigers are breaking in some new coaches of their own, but will likely be ranked somewhere near the top 10 when Georgia Southern gets to town. Asking for a huge upset right off the bat is a bit much, but Georgia Southern has plenty of solid showings against P5 teams in the past to use as comparison. There’s plenty more to cover, so even a decent performance is all that can be expected.
Weeks 2-3: A week after being a huge underdog, Georgia Southern will be a sizeable favorite as it opens home play against New Hampshire, followed by a bye week. In these weeks, the Eagles need to settle into their new offense. It’s no secret that a punchless offense was critical to a lack of success last season. Hopefully two weeks to smooth things out early on will make for a better story in 2017.
Weeks 4-6: This is where the progress — if there is any — will show itself. Georgia Southern faces a trip to an Indiana team that has quietly become a legitimate dark horse in the Big Ten. The Eagles then have another long layoff before hosting Arkansas State in a midweek home game. The Indiana game is exactly what many Eagle fans have been begging for — a P5 matchup against a team that would be a quality win, but that isn’t quite as imposing as its usual SEC and ACC opponents. As for Arkansas State, the loss to the Red Wolves might have been the worst of the last season as Georgia Southern managed to squander a plus-5 turnover margin. They’ll get another crack at Arkansas State and will need to do better if they want to get into the Sun Belt chase.
Weeks 7-8: Midterm time. Regardless of how the first part of the season has gone, games against New Mexico State and at Massachusetts will be big for the Eagles. If the games against Indiana and Arkansas State have gone south, this will be a chance for the Eagles to get their grades up before diving into the toughest part of the schedule. If Georgia Southern comes into this stretch with momentum, wins against the Aggies and Minutemen will show that they’re going for an ‘A’.
Weeks 9-11: This stretch will likely determine whether the Eagles head into the home stretch gunning for an impressive bowl or merely trying to keep afloat in the postseason chase. A trip to Troy ends October for the Eagles. The Trojans are an early favorite to contend for the conference title, but the Eagles have had their number in all of their first three encounters as SBC rivals. From there, the Eagles will look to restore order to the universe as they attempt to end a two-game skid against Georgia State. And if that isn’t enough, the Georgia State game will be followed by a short week and a trip to Boone to take on Appalachian State.
Weeks 12-14: Good grades through the first three quarters of the fall will be met with joy from the fans, but every student knows that you can’t just coast to the finish line. The Eagles host South Alabama before ending the regular season with trips to UL Lafayette and Coastal Carolina. By then, the Eagles will be operating on two full months without a bye week. But finals are all about pulling all-nighters and succeeding while running on fumes.
With any luck, a solid semester will leave the Eagles with an extra credit opportunity in the form of a bowl game. But first, they have to make the grade.
And if the Eagles are going to take on this course load, I think fan attendance should be mandatory.