clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Georgia Southern the 2016 Sun Belt favorite? An October gauntlet will answer that.

New, comments

The ever-transitioning Eagles always have high expectations, but one big roster question and one big schedule question will determine whether they meet them.

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. More firsts

Georgia Southern fans have long been known for their intensity, which makes sense. About three and a half decades ago, a school with prime football geography started up a program that, thanks to Erk Russell, immediately won big. In the Eagles' first year (1982), they went 7-3-1, beating UCF and Florida State's JV. In 1985, their second year in what is now FCS, they won the national title. They did it again in their third year and again in their sixth, seventh, 16th, and 17th.

In 34 years, GS has had a losing record only three times, and the Eagles ditched their coach all three times (and in two of those instances, it was the coach's first season). Expectations are intense in Statesboro.

Still, things have been even more hectic than normal of late. After three straight FCS playoff semifinal appearances from 2010-12, GS began its transition to FBS in 2013. With no playoff to shoot for, the Eagles settled for beating Florida. In 2014, with new head coach Willie Fritz, they immediately claimed their first Sun Belt title.

In 2015 came a new set of firsts, and they weren't all happy. First shutout loss since 1992 (44-0 against West Virginia). First Sun Belt loss (a nationally televised stumble at Appalachian State). First humiliating loss to a rival (Georgia State, by 27 points at home). First FBS coaching change.

Mind you, it was still an excellent season. The Eagles won nine games. They scored at least 37 points nine times, they finished 39th in S&P+ (the highest in the Sun Belt), and they ran circles around a good Bowling Green in their first-ever bowl win.

GS showed a level of consistent upside that no other team in the conference could match. And the Eagles hit this level despite relative youth; only one unit featured more than a couple of seniors (the secondary).

Despite losing head coach Jeff Monken to Army after 2013, Georgia Southern's transition has been the most seamless since Marshall came up in the 1990s. Even conference mate Appalachian State, which has won 17 of its last 19 games, stumbled out of the gates in 2014. GS rose to FBS in part because of spite -- if Georgia State was going to create a football program and move up, the Eagles had to, too -- and has looked frequently spectacular.

This team brings back most of what made it good, but for the second time in three years, Georgia Southern breaks in a new head coach. Fritz left for Tulane and was replaced by former UCF and Colorado State defensive coordinator Tyson Summers. He inherits a boatload of defensive talent that he should find to his liking, but at a school that has defined itself by its option attack, his offensive changes (or lack thereof) will define the start to his tenure.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 48 | Final S&P+ Rk: 39
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at West Virginia 31 0-44 L 1% 0% -36.0 -24.5
12-Sep Western Michigan 51 43-17 W 94% 100% +23.0 +30.5
19-Sep Citadel N/A 48-13 W 82% 100% +10.1
26-Sep at Idaho 114 44-20 W 76% 99% +9.8 +8.0
3-Oct at UL-Monroe 121 51-31 W 85% 100% +7.6 +14.0
17-Oct New Mexico State 118 56-26 W 96% 100% +17.7 +1.0
22-Oct at Appalachian State 42 13-31 L 19% 1% -9.5 -11.5
29-Oct Texas State 116 37-13 W 85% 100% +3.4 +3.5
14-Nov at Troy 90 45-10 W 92% 100% +29.2 +28.5
21-Nov at Georgia 30 17-23 L 23% 4% -2.0 +7.5
28-Nov South Alabama 102 55-17 W 97% 100% +16.7 +17.5
5-Dec Georgia State 87 7-34 L 7% 0% -48.1 -48.0
23-Dec vs. Bowling Green 25 58-27 W 86% 96% +40.8 +38.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 33.1 40 24.7 44
Points Per Game 36.5 25 23.5 38

2. Few unsure outcomes

Either it worked, or it didn't. The in-between was almost non-existent. While teams almost always look better in wins than losses, the spread between Georgia Southern's nine wins and four losses was stunning.

  • Nine GS wins:
    Average percentile performance: 88% (~top 15) | Average score: GS 49, Opp 19 | Yards per play: GS 7.4, Opp 4.8
  • Four GS losses
    Average percentile performance: 13% (~top 115) | Average score: Opp 33, GS 9 | Yards per play: Opp 6.9, GS 3.9

Southern faced five S&P+ top-60 teams, crushed two, got crushed by two, and fell in overtime to Georgia.

Against lesser teams, GS was mostly great but got pounded by Georgia State in the ultimate nerd-beats-up-bully moment.

This was a strange season. The only game decided by fewer than 18 was the Georgia game, but even that wasn't as close on paper. Georgia outgained Southern by 1.1 yards per play, which usually translates to an easy win, but lost two fumbles in Eagle territory.

Fragility is common in a younger team, and all it takes is a look at the returnees to realize there weren't a lot of seniors. Now, but few teams boast the raw volume of experience that Georgia Southern can.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.46 3 IsoPPP+ 120.2 18
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.9% 27 Succ. Rt. + 105.2 53
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.4 19 Def. FP+ 30.3 81
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 40 Redzone S&P+ 96.5 94
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.3 ACTUAL 21 +5.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 46 25 53 18
RUSHING 1 9 38 3
PASSING 128 76 102 65
Standard Downs 17 45 11
Passing Downs 46 60 46
Q1 Rk 87 1st Down Rk 34
Q2 Rk 20 2nd Down Rk 40
Q3 Rk 66 3rd Down Rk 35
Q4 Rk 70

3. A beautiful, staid identity

What Southern feared most was a repeat of the man referred to throughout Statesboro as "That Coach," Brian VanGorder. The current Notre Dame defensive coordinator was GS' head coach in 2006. He dumped tradition -- the triple-option, the buses, etc. -- in favor of appealing to top recruits.

The move infuriated [former Georgia Southern and current Georgia Tech head coach Paul] Johnson, who wanted his Navy program to schedule Southern so he "could beat 'That Coach's' ass," as the story goes.

"Oh yeah, it really sounded sexy when someone came in and said they were going to throw the ball all over the field, until they didn’t win any playoff games and started losing five, six times a season," Johnson said. "Then it wasn’t so much fun."

Last spring, my podcast mate Steven Godfrey wrote about Georgia Southern's long relationships with winning and playing option football. It was a great look at how culture isn't just created by the current coach. Fritz inherited a culture and thrived with it, winning 18 games in two years.

But Summers is a defensive guy. He's not married to any offensive system, and that made people nervous. He's made some reassurances.

"For those of you wanting to ask, we are going to look (offensively) the way we look now," he said. "It'll be the gun option ... the gun, triple-option. What we've got to do is be able to throw the ball."

Still, his coordinator hires were interesting. Summers brought in two locals -- former Valdosta State head coach David Dean and former Valdosta high school coach Rance Gillespie -- as co-coordinators. Gillespie was Chris Hatcher's offensive coordinator at GS from 2007-09, when he helped unsuccessfully shift from running 75 percent of the time in 2007 to throwing 54 percent of the time in 2009. Meanwhile, at Valdosta State last year, Dean's squad ran just 53 percent of the time.

Good coaches adapt to personnel, and Dean and Gillespie are inheriting some of the nation's best option personnel. They wouldn't be able to break into a 50-50 pass attack even if they wanted to. But it will be interesting to see what tendencies change.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Kevin Ellison 6'0, 195 Sr. NR NR 40 89 597 4 5 44.9% 4 4.3% 6.1
Favian Upshaw 6'1, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8128 19 48 227 0 5 39.6% 2 4.0% 4.3
Vegas Harley 5'11, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8293
Hampton McConnell 6'2, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7979
Shai Werts 5'11, 188 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7951
Seth Shuman 6'1, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7911

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Matt Breida RB 5'10, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 204 1615 17 7.9 10.9 41.2% 3 1
L.A. Ramsby RB 5'11, 210 Jr. NR NR 165 816 13 4.9 4.1 40.0% 2 1
Kevin Ellison QB 6'0, 195 Sr. NR NR 110 743 8 6.8 8.1 42.7% 5 3
Wesley Fields RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8364 101 682 7 6.8 8.3 39.6% 0 0
Favian Upshaw QB 6'1, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8128 78 594 6 7.6 10.8 44.9% 4 1
Chaz Thornton RB 5'7, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 20 137 1 6.9 11.4 35.0% 1 1
Noah Hickey RB 5'7, 205 So. NR NR 9 65 0 7.2 13.7 33.3% 1 1
Vegas Harley QB 5'11, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8293 9 58 1 6.4 7.0 44.4% 1 1
Thomas Banks RB 5'10, 195 So. NR NR 7 11 0 1.6 0.0 0.0% 0 0
Jermany Hawkins RB 5'10, 207 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8315







4. So many weapons

For nine of last year's 13 games, Georgia Southern's option was so crisp that it was able to overcome youth on the offensive line. Two freshmen and a sophomore combined for 27 of GS' 65 starts. The Eagles' line stats were only okay (52nd in Adj. Line Yards), but they ranked ninth overall in Rushing S&P+ regardless. That's how good quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw were, and that's how absurdly explosive the running backs were.

Fifty-one FBS running backs carried at least 200 times in 2015. Of these, only 15 had an opportunity rate of at least 41 percent, and seven averaged at least seven highlight yards per opportunity. Two did both: Florida State's Dalvin Cook and GS' Matt Breida. They were among the nation's most efficient feature backs, and they were by far the two most explosive.

Highlight Yards per Opportunity (FBS RBs with at least 200 carries and 41 percent opportunity rates):

  1. Breida (10.9 hlt/opp, 41.2 percent opportunity rate)
  2. Cook (10.1, 41.1 percent)
  3. Leonard Fournette, LSU (6.8, 44.4 percent)
  4. Marlon Mack, USF (6.7, 44.8 percent)
  5. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech (6.3, 42.9 percent)

Nobody else came close.

Breida is back, as are L.A. Ramsby (4.1, 40.0 percent), Wesley Fields (6.8, 39.6 percent), and Chaz Thornton (11.4, 35.0 percent). That's an embarrassment of option riches.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
BJ Johnson WR-Y 6'1, 212 Sr. NR NR 32 15 249 46.9% 25.8% 7.8 53.1% 46.9% 1.52
Derek Keaton WR-Z 25 6 49 24.0% 20.2% 2.0 44.0% 16.0% 1.20
Ryan Longoria WR-X 20 12 121 60.0% 16.1% 6.1 50.0% 60.0% 0.95
Myles Campbell WR-Y 5'5, 160 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 16 8 130 50.0% 12.9% 8.1 37.5% 50.0% 1.51
L.A. Ramsby RB 5'11, 210 Jr. NR NR 6 4 14 66.7% 4.8% 2.3 16.7% 0.0% 0.00
Wesley Fields RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8364 5 4 105 80.0% 4.0% 21.0 60.0% 80.0% 2.73
Matt Breida RB 5'10, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 5 3 6 60.0% 4.0% 1.2 60.0% 20.0% 0.68
Keigan Williams WR-X 6'1, 205 Sr. NR NR 4 3 50 75.0% 3.2% 12.5 50.0% 75.0% 1.73
Montay Crockett WR-Z 6'0, 180 Sr. NR NR 4 1 31 25.0% 3.2% 7.8 25.0% 25.0% 3.59
Malik Henry WR-Z 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 3 2 46 66.7% 2.4% 15.3 0.0% 66.7% 2.17
James Dean TE
2 1 23 50.0% 1.6% 11.5 100.0% 50.0% 2.74
Isaiah Seise TE 6'1, 239 So. NR NR 1 0 0 0.0% 0.8% 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Obe Fortune WR 6'1, 178 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8028
J.L. Banks TE 6'2, 230 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Darion Anderson WR 6'0, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8722
Michael Jackson WR 5'10, 169 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8700
Mark Michaud TE 6'4, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006
Chris Barrett TE 6'3, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959

5. How much can the passing game improve?

Because Georgia Southern was so married to the option (even running the ball two-thirds of the time on passing downs) and so good at it, the Eagles were able to dig out of some passing-downs holes without putting their QBs in obvious-pass situations. That's good because, while the bowl game was a rousing success, the passing was mediocre at best.

Even with the threat of the option creating strong play-action opportunities, Ellison and Upshaw only combined to average 5.5 yards per pass with a dismal 43 percent completion rate. Starting Z receiver Derek Keaton caught just six of 25 passes, and go-to guy B.J. Johnson caught 15 of 32.

If passing improves, it might be because of young receivers. Keaton is back, as is No. 4 target Myles Campbell, but there is a load of former star recruits beneath the surface. Redshirt freshman Obe Fortune was nearly rated a four-star recruit by Rivals, and incoming freshman Darion Anderson was nearly a four-star per the 247Sports Composite. In all, six true or redshirt freshmen were deemed either high-two- or three-star recruits, including three tight ends. If the quarterbacks can deliver, it appears that there is a lot of young potential.

Of course, relying on young receivers rarely gets you very far. But thanks to the run, the passing game only really needs to improve by so much.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.7 3.17 3.42 40.4% 73.9% 17.7% 97.3 3.9% 6.6%
Rank 52 24 47 45 27 38 68 43 50
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Darien Foreman LG 13 29 2015 1st All-Sun Belt
Andy Kwon C 6'2, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 13 13 2015 2nd All-Sun Belt
Tommy Boynton RT 6'4, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 13 13
Jeremiah Culbreth LT 6'3, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8252 11 11
Roscoe Byrd RG 10 10
Ryan Northrup RG 6'2, 290 So. NR NR 3 3
Max Magana LT 6'6, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 2 2
Maurice Hunt LG 0 2
Curtis Rainey C 6'2, 297 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7817 0 0
Heath Warren RT 6'3, 250 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Christian Taylor OL 6'5, 335 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8120 0 0
Tristan Hill OL 6'4, 275 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100 0 0
Jeremiah Theus OL 6'4, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8004

Drew Wilson OL 6'4, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8475

Lawrence Edwards OL 6'6, 258 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8377

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.27 72 IsoPPP+ 112.2 34
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.6% 37 Succ. Rt. + 106.2 47
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 35.6 1 Off. FP+ 32.2 20
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.6 84 Redzone S&P+ 107.2 39
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.7 ACTUAL 27.0 +5.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 21 32 47 34
RUSHING 26 20 42 17
PASSING 40 56 52 56
Standard Downs 49 49 50
Passing Downs 9 21 6
Q1 Rk 36 1st Down Rk 49
Q2 Rk 25 2nd Down Rk 96
Q3 Rk 79 3rd Down Rk 9
Q4 Rk 71

6. A Summers-Costantini defense

Back at the turn of the century, when Paul Johnson was winning national titles, Summers was a linebacker and captain at Presbyterian. The 35-year-old has risen quickly, spending a few years as a graduate assistant before becoming safeties coach at Georgia Southern in 2006, moving to UAB for five years, then up to coordinator for George O'Leary at UCF in 2014.

His lone UCF defense rose from 48th in Def. S&P+ in the previous year to 34th, and for whatever it's worth, it fell to 112th in his absence. Summers ended up at Colorado State, and his only Rams defense improved only from 92nd to 88th.

Summers chose former UCF defensive line coach Lorenzo Costantini as his first coordinator.

Summers has been pretty good at utilizing whatever speed he can find in the front seven, particularly at linebacker. The starters in his UCF linebacking corps combined for 26.5 tackles for loss and 14 passes defensed; his Colorado State defense ranked seventh in linebacker havoc rate.

Summers and Costantini should find plenty to like about what they're inheriting.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 113.2 2.57 2.81 37.6% 47.4% 20.0% 101.9 6.1% 6.6%
Rank 17 22 32 57 4 64 59 29 83
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jamal Johnson DT 6'2, 245 Sr. NR NR 13 30.0 4.9% 6.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Jay Ellison NT 6'1, 310 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8490 13 23.5 3.8% 3.5 2.5 1 0 0 0
Logan Hunt DE 6'1, 247 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8181 13 22.0 3.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Bernard Dawson DE 6'1, 248 Sr. NR NR 13 20.0 3.3% 6.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Darrius Sapp DT 6'1, 330 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8161 13 15.0 2.5% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ryan George DE 6'1, 244 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 12 13.0 2.1% 4.0 3.5 0 0 0 0
Ross Alexander DE 6'2, 237 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900 13 6.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Nardo Govan DE 6'2, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 11 5.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Zack Copeland DE 6'1, 250 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694 9 4.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tre Griffin DE 6'1, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8191 12 3.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jalen Green-Stewart NT 6'1, 277 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 6 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ian Bush DT 6'0, 301 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8000 4 2.0 0.3% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Sean Gaddy DT 6'0, 270 Sr. NR NR 3 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trayvon Williams DT 6'2, 318 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8379
J.B. Kouassi DE 6'2, 226 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8185
Deshon Cooper DE 6'3, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8439
Darius Roper DT 6'3, 270 Jr. NR 0.8000
Traver Vliem DE 6'4, 237 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Antwione Williams LB 13 78.5 12.8% 10.5 4.0 0 3 4 0
Ironhead Gallon LB 5'9, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 61.0 10.0% 4.5 1.5 0 3 0 0
Chris DeLaRosa LB 6'1, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 13 35.5 5.8% 4.0 1.0 0 0 2 0
William Bussey LB 6'0, 215 Sr. NR NR 13 9.5 1.6% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ken Butler LB 5'11, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8200 11 8.0 1.3% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Patrick Flowe LB
12 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kurt Oehlbeck LB 5'10, 180 Jr. NR NR
Ukeme Eligwe
(Florida State)
LB 6'2, 239 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9664
Todd Bradley LB 6'0, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8113








7. So much returning up front

To be sure, there are toys in the toy box up front. GS ranked 17th in Adj. Line Yards and made stops on 53 percent of short-yardage situations (fourth in FBS). And almost literally everybody in the front seven returns.

The line went six deep; all six are back and will be joined by three-star JUCO transfers Deshon Cooper and Darius Roper. The linebacking corps basically went five deep; four return and are joined by Florida State transfer and former four-star Ukeme Eligwe.

The lone loss is linebacker Antwione Williams, and that isn't a trivial loss. Williams was the front seven's best havoc player, recruiting 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and three pass break-ups. But there might be enough candidates to absorb that.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Matt Dobson FS 11 45.0 7.4% 1.5 1 2 4 0 0
Antonio Glover SS 13 44.0 7.2% 2 0 6 3 0 0
Tay Hicklin SS 13 34.0 5.6% 0.5 0 0 4 0 0
Darrius White CB
13 30.5 5.0% 1 0 2 10 1 0
Darius Jones NB 5'9, 180 Sr. NR NR 13 27.0 4.4% 2 0 2 4 0 0
Caleb Williams CB 13 19.0 3.1% 0 0 3 11 0 1
Riyahd Jones CB 11 10.0 1.6% 1.5 0.5 0 0 1 2
RJ Murray FS 5'11, 198 So. NR NR 8 5.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Robert Brice S 5'11, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 5.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rayquan Sam CB 5'9, 180 Sr. NR NR 13 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joshua Moon S 5'11, 178 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8364 5 2.0 0.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Jessie Liptrot CB 5'11, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8173
Jay Bowdry S 5'11, 169 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8063
Christian Matthew CB 6'2, 166 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8225
Monquavion Brinson CB 5'11, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8472
Martial Washington S 6'3, 203 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8248
Rakeen Hightower S 6'0, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8170
Kindle Vildor DB 5'11, 177 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006

8. One giant, terrifying question mark

And here we have it: Georgia Southern's blatant red flag. I've written lately about the statistical impact of returning production in the secondary, and the Eagles have almost none.

Gone are six players (three cornerbacks, three safeties) who combined for 30 percent of Georgia Southern's tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 13 interceptions, 31 break-ups, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

With only a mediocre passing downs pass rush, Georgia Southern was devastating -- ninth in the country -- on passing downs. They weren't always good at forcing them, but they almost always capitalized on them, and the secondary was a huge reason.

Fritz did not leave the cupboard bare, at least as far as athleticism is concerned. The Eagles have eight who were three-stars per 247: sophomore Joshua Moon, three redshirt freshmen, and four incoming freshmen, including Monquavion Brinson, one of the stars of the Sun Belt's best signing class. With some experience, this should be one hell of a secondary.

But one has to figure there will be regression in 2016, and the amount might determine whether Georgia Southern is the Sun Belt favorite heading into November.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Ryan Nowicki 33 41.1 3 12 11 69.7%
Matt Flynn 6'0, 200 Jr. 8 41.0 1 1 1 25.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Younghoe Koo 5'10, 190 Sr. 67 62.4 45 0 67.2%
Alex Hanks 22 60.2 8 0 36.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Alex Hanks 31-32 7-9 77.8% 1-1 100.0%
Younghoe Koo 5'10, 190 Sr. 28-28 5-7 71.4% 2-2 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Derek Keaton KR 36 25.9 0
Montay Crockett KR 6'0, 180 Sr. 3 14.7 0
Derek Keaton PR 18 15.3 0
Deshawntee Gallon PR 5'9, 210 Sr. 2 16.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 34
Field Goal Efficiency 72
Punt Return Success Rate 7
Kick Return Success Rate 25
Punt Success Rate 60
Kickoff Success Rate 6

9. Replacing some field position weapons

Georgia Southern was a fantastic field position team, ranking fourth in overall field position margin (plus-8.2 yards per possession) and first in offensive starting field position (35.6). Return man Derek Keaton was a huge reason for that; though he didn't score any touchdowns via return, his averages (15.3 yards on punt returns, 25.9 on kicks) were massive. His absence could be significant, though the return of strong kickoffs man Younghoe Koo will help.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Savannah State NR 51.3 100%
10-Sep at South Alabama 115 13.8 79%
17-Sep UL-Monroe 125 24.3 92%
24-Sep at Western Michigan 65 -1.5 46%
5-Oct at Arkansas State 89 4.6 60%
15-Oct at Georgia Tech 54 -3.4 42%
22-Oct at New Mexico State 117 14.3 80%
27-Oct Appalachian State 59 4.3 60%
5-Nov at Ole Miss 7 -18.0 15%
12-Nov UL-Lafayette 106 18.5 86%
19-Nov at Georgia State 105 10.1 72%
3-Dec Troy 103 16.4 83%
Projected wins: 8.1
Five-Year F/+ Rk 8.4% (49)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 95 / 106
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 6 / 6.5
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.2
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 69% (89%, 48%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 9.0 (0.0)

10. Everything happens in October

Georgia Southern's season starts and ends in cooperative fashion; the Eagles have at least a 72 percent chance of winning in each of its first three and last three games. At worst, the Eagles should go about 5-1 in these.

Then there's the middle. In a span of five games, GS plays four straight on the road (and three of the four are against potentially strong teams), then returns home to host Appalachian State. Oh yeah, and then the Eagles head to Ole Miss. Wow.

That gauntlet will define how we view Summers' first season. Ole Miss is probably going to be quite good, but at least five of those six games are winnable; in fact, the Eagles have a 42 percent or better in each of five. But as many as five are losable.

Georgia Southern should be excellent again, likely the third-best team in the Sun Belt at worst (or fourth if you believe in Troy). And with a win at Arkansas State on October 5, the Eagles would host Appalachian State as the Sun Belt favorite.

But matching last year's nine-win output would be impressive with this schedule, and things could skew in a good or bad direction based on how well the new offensive coaching syncs with personnel and how well the pass defense holds up. It's fun writing about this team, and I hope the Eagles do well.