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Earlier this month we caught up with Ben from Panthertalk.com and talked Georgia State football. Now it's time to turn our attention to the other major FCS school in Georgia. Georgia Southern football has an historic and rich history as they've won six FCS/1-AA National Titles. The Eagles most recent championship was in 2000 under current Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson. After some down years the Eagles fortunes appear to be on the rise again under second year Head Coach Jeff Monken. Monken went 10-5 in his debut season, made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 where they eventually lost in the semi-finals to Delaware. We wanted to learn more about the Georgia Southern Eagles so we cornered Jason Cassels of SB Nation Atlanta to talk a little bit about 2010 and find out what is in store for Georgia Southern in 2011. 

 

What were your favorite memories from last season?

Last year had a few special moments for Georgia Southern fans.  The first was the return to the Triple Option in the first game against Savannah State.  Four years of frustration were washed away when the Eagles lined up on the familiar Flexbone.  Later in the year, Southern came from behind to knock off #1 Appalachian State in overtime, which started a six game winning streak and a semifinal run. One of my personal favorites came in the quarterfinals when Georgia Southern fans showed up en masse to Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium, outnumbered the Terrier fans on the way to a 23-20 victory.



Jeff Monken went 10-5 last year in his debut season. What are your overall thoughts on him and the job he did?

Jeff Monken did a phenomenal job in his first year.  He’s in the same no-nonsense mold as Paul Johnson, who he coached under at GSU, Navy, and Georgia Tech, and the discipline on the team is visibly improved over the last few years.  Probably his best decision came behind the scenes as he brought back former Strength and Conditioning coach Tom Melton.  The team’s conditioning was phenomenal in 2010, and it showed as they played in 11 straight games after an early off-date.  I expect the conditioning to improve once again in 2011.



Probably the most high profile guy on the team is former Georgia Tech QB Jaybo Shaw. How has he been doing since he arrived and what are your expectations for him in 2011?

Georgia Southern was very fortunate that Jaybo Shaw decided to transfer.  There have certainly been better athletes at QB in GSU’s past, but Jaybo is exactly the QB that the team needed in 2010.  He was an extra coach on the field, already knew the offense, and made great decisions.  The future is certainly going to be backup QB Jerick McKinnon, but the 2011 Eagles are still Jaybo’s team.  He was permanently banged up last year, but in the spring game it certainly looked like he was back to full speed.  Ideally I would like to see him carry us to a big halftime lead so that McKinnon can get some work in the second half and be more prepared for 2012.

 



Who are some under the radar guys who were on last years team that will have a bigger impact this year?

 

Sophomore LB Carlos Cave started to see some playing time at the end of the year and should take over as a permanent starter in 2011. A-Back Johnathan Bryant was injured in the first game and missed all of the 2010 season, but should be back at full speed.  Defensive End Terico Agnew had a great game in the playoffs against William & Mary and should see more time, though still in a backup role.



For those that didn't follow Georgia Southern last year tell us a little about the best players on this team.

Jaybo Shaw is the undeniable leader on offense.  Lining up at B-Back (traditional fullback) is Robert Brown, who was a 1000 yard rusher as a true freshman last year.  He has put on a considerable amount of muscle in the off-season and looks ready to deal out some solid punishment up the middle.  It’s a busy backfield at A-Back (traditional running back), but starts with J.J. Wilcox who can really do anything that’s asked of him.  He’s a very hard runner, a great pass catcher, a phenomenal blocker, and has good speed to top it off.  The defense is led by All-American DT Brent Russell who was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2010, while All-Conference DBs Laron Scott and Derek Heyden will have opposing receivers listening for footsteps.


Who are some newcomers that you think can have an immediate impact this year?

A lot of talk this off-season has been about redshirt freshman WR Kentrellis Showers.  One of the things missing on offense last year was a receiver that could stretch the field.  Showers has great speed and hands, and even though the Eagles don’t put it in the air much, it usually goes for big yardage when they do.  I would personally like to see all incoming freshman take a redshirt, but GSU is thin at B-Back, and incoming freshman Xavier (Zay) Sharp is a likely candidate to play right away.



What do you see as the most important games on the schedule this year?

There are three games that I’ve got circled on my calendar.  The opening game against Samford is big, only because the Bulldogs have beaten GSU three straight years.  The Eagles are definitely the more talented team, but Samford has had our number lately.  I certainly think that trend will be turned around this year.  October 29th sees the Eagles traveling to Appalachian State, who will be looking to avenge last year’s loss.  If all goes as expected, both teams should be top 5 and this should be an instant classic.  Finally, on November 12th, GSU will travel to Wofford, who will be understandably pissed after we took over their stadium and knocked them out of the playoffs.  The chants of GEORGIA….SOUTHERN and WHOSE HOUSE….OUR HOUSE across another team’s stadium was awesome, but I have a feeling we’re going to pay for it—unless we can take over their stadium again.



What is your gut feeling on the final record and what makes this season a success in your eyes?

Elon and Furman are both breaking in new coaches and should be a bit down.  Chattanooga is surging lately, but has to travel to Statesboro.  It is very likely that GSU will be undefeated going into the App State game.  Wofford will be a tough game, while Alabama is an expected loss.  My gut feeling is that I expect to split the App State and Wofford games, lose to Alabama, and win the rest.  That puts the final record at 9-2 and enjoying a first round bye in the playoffs.  With that said, since Tusculum is D2, they will not count towards playoff eligibility, so a few slip ups and a 7-4 record will have the Eagles missing the playoffs all together.  With the semifinal run last year, GSU fans have their sights set on a seventh National Championship in 2011.  The season won’t be a failure without a championship, but at a school like Georgia Southern, success is measured in rings.

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