STATESBORO — Georgia Southern won just about everything in 2014 — except the chance to celebrate in the postseason.
Playing in their first season as a FBS team, the Eagles won the Sun Belt Conference with an 8-0 mark.
As a first-year FBS team, Georgia Southern, 9-3 overall, was ineligible for a bowl. Its appeal for bowl eligibility was denied by the NCAA.
That mix of success and frustration left the Eagles still aiming for the first bowl berth in school history.
“We’re guaranteed 12 games and I told the guys it’s my goal to play a 13th game,” said coach Willie Fritz.
Georgia Southern had the perfect springboard for its inaugural FBS season when it upset Florida in 2013. The Eagles almost pulled off another upset last season in a 42-38 loss at Georgia Tech.
The challenges this year include an opening game at West Virginia and a Nov. 21 visit to Georgia.
“It’s something they don’t shy away from,” Fritz said of his players’ approach to playing big-name opponents.
Some things to watch for in Georgia Southern’s second season in the FBS:
QB SUSPENSION: Quarterback Kevin Ellison, a Habersham Central High graduate, was the team’s second-leading rusher last season, is academically ineligible for the first two games against West Virginia and Western Michigan. Junior Favian Upshaw, who played in 11 games as the backup last season, is expected to be the fill-in starter.
RUN THE BALL: The Eagles didn’t change the run-first formula that made them a FCS power. Running back Matt Breida and Ellison combined to run for more than 2,500 yards with 29 touchdowns.
THROW THE BALL: Fritz is looking for an improvement of about 50 to 70 yards passing per game as he expects defenses to stack the box against the run. Georgia Southern led the Sun Belt in total offense despite ranking last in the league with only 107 yards passing per game. “That’s not just on the quarterback,” Fritz said.
NEW LINE: Fritz must replace four starters on the offensive line. Fritz said he was sure of only two starters on the line following the first preseason scrimmage — left guard Darien Foreman, the only returning starter, and center Andy Kwon. Right guard Maurice Hunt is being pushed by UAB transfer Roscoe Byrd.
TRY, TRY AGAIN: Georgia Southern is 0-5 against Georgia, most recently including a 45-14 loss in 2012. Fritz is hoping for a better game now that the Eagles also are a FBS team. “It’s one of the reasons Georgia Southern made the move up, so we could compete in these kinds of challenges,” he said.