GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES
Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga., Nov. 17
Coach: Jeff Monken, 21-8 in two seasons at GSU.
Last year: 11-3 (7-1 Southern), earned the SoCon title; won the first two rounds of the FCS playoffs before falling in the semifinals, 35-7, at eventual national champions North Dakota State.
Best win: The 31-10 victory at ninth-ranked Wofford that clinched the conference championship.
Worst loss: The four-TD loss to North Dakota State, but again, the Bison went on to win it all.
Returning starters: 15 (eight offense, seven defense, zero special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Steady. Matching the Eagles' deep FCS playoff run from last year is by definition a tall order, but they have the personnel to make it happen, and the program seems to have adjusted nicely to the system being run by third-year head coach Jeff Monken. After wandering in the wilderness for four years under Brian VanGorder and then Chris Hatcher, the Eagles have returned to their triple-option roots -- no surprise given that Monken served under former GSU and current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson for more than a decade. He'll have another strong stable of runners this season, led by SoCon Freshman of the Year Dominique Swope (1,023 yards and seven TDs in 2011) and do-everything star Jerick McKinnon.
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): The Dawgs stay focused, keep the Eagles' option attack under control and get a nice tune-up as they prepare for yet another installment of "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate" with Georgia Tech the following week. While it's odd to be facing an FCS squad so late in the season, the Southern game actually comes at a pretty good time for the Dawgs: They'll be facing a team that not only runs the same kind of offense Tech runs, it's a team coached by a guy who helped run that offense at Georgia Tech for two years (and at Navy for many years before that). Basically, it's like they're getting a preview of GT before the Yellow Jackets even come to town.
Worst-case scenario: The Georgia starters are still on the field well into the fourth quarter as the Dawgs get yet another test from a triple-option offense. Paul Johnson's system has run the Bulldogs ragged on a number of occasions; last season's game was the first time in four years that UGA beat Tech by more than a single score. But the Eagles themselves have been known to give the Dawgs an unexpectedly close game now and then. In 2004, the Eagles held the ball for an eternity and only allowed Georgia a 13-7 lead at halftime before the Dawgs pulled away with a big third quarter. Four years before that, Georgia allowed GSU running back Adrian Peterson 152 yards in a lackluster 29-7 victory. With this year's UGA-GSU game sandwiched between matchups against two of Georgia's bitterest (and longest-standing) rivals, there's a risk of the Georgia players not staying focused or taking the Eagles as seriously as they should, and that could allow the game to stay interesting for a lot longer than Georgia fans would like.