The preseason expectations for Georgia Southern weren’t too high, at least outside the team’s locker room. In the Sun Belt preseason poll, the Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the East Division.
Being the fifth-best team in this black-and-blue division isn’t the worst thing in the world. While the American Athletic Conference has been the Group of Five standard with seven New Year’s Six appearances in the last nine years, this year the Sun Belt East Division could give any G5 division or conference a run for its money.
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James Madison, which just beat Virginia, was the preseason pick in the Sun Belt East followed by Appalachian State, which just scared the daylights out of North Carolina for the second straight year. Last week, App State lost 40-34 in double overtime at North Carolina. That came after a 63-61 home loss to the Tar Heels last year. Going back a little further, App State won in Chapel Hill, 34-31 in 2019
Then came No. 3 Coastal Carolina, No. 4 Marshall, and then Georgia Southern.
It could still come true that Georgia Southern is the fifth-best team in the division, but the early returns suggest that the Eagles at the least, appear markedly improved from last year’s 6-7 edition.
After an opening 34-0 win over The Citadel, Georgia Southern had one of the more impressive wins last week, 49-35 over a UAB team that is expected to be competitive during its first season in the AAC.
Leading the way has been quarterback Davis Brin, who spent his first five seasons at Tulsa. Brin appeared in just three games in his first three years at the AAC school but made 22 starts over the next two seasons at Tulsa.
He is following in the footsteps of Kyle Vantrease, who spent his first five seasons at Buffalo before starting at quarterback for Georgia Southern last year, throwing for 4,253 yards and 27 touchdowns (along with 16 interceptions).
Brin was far from perfect at Tulsa, but he also had his moments. He completed 59.5% of his passes for 5,660 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also threw 24 interceptions, and if he can cut that total down, then Brin has the ability to help the Eagles exceed those preseason expectations.
In his first two games for Georgia Southern, Brin has completed 78% of his passes for 562 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The Eagles have a game-breaking running back in sophomore running back OJ Arnold. Against UAB he rushed for 54 yards on five attempts and scored on a 39-yard run. He also caught two passes for 25 yards and threw a touchdown pass.
Receiver Khaleb Hood had eight receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown and broke the Georgia Southern career receiving mark. He now has 1,859 career receiving yards.
Now in his second year at Georgia Southern, Clay Helton, the former USC coach, has an offense with plenty of contributors. In the first two games, six different players scored at least one touchdown.
Even though the Eagles allowed 35 points against UAB, redshirt junior linebacker Marques Watson-Trent stood out with 14 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
Now comes the most interesting game of the season for the Eagles.
On Saturday, they travel to Wisconsin to play a Badgers team smarting from last week’s 31-23 loss at Washington State. Wisconsin was nationally ranked heading into the Washington State game and has high expectations under first-year coach Luke Fickell, who turned the program around during his time at Cincinnati.
Georgia Southern will not surprisingly be a decided underdog. BetMGM has Georgia Southern as a 16.5-point underdog against Wisconsin.
Yet if the Eagles play a competitive game, then it could indicate that this is a team that can outperform the preseason expectations.
Playing up in competition against a better-than-solid Big Ten school is good for Georgia Southern, only if the Eagles can escape without injury.
Whether the Eagles contend in the Sun Belt will likely rest with a two-game stretch beginning Sept. 30 at home against Coastal Carolina. After a bye week, the Eagles then visit James Madison.
Right now, it appears the Eagles can compete in this year’s highly competitive Sun Belt East Division.