Nobody expected the 2010 Georgia Southern Eagles to make serious noise in the FCS football playoffs, but they just did. Our preseason projections had them finishing in the middle of the Southern Conference, with concerns about a new offensive scheme and several departing stars lowering hopes for the Eagles. An option run offense led GSU to one of the most successful periods in FCS history when Paul Johnson won back-to-back titles here at the turn of the century, though surely it was going to take time to reestablish the option in Statesboro.
But new head coach Jeff Monken's offense worked well enough to turn a 4-4 early record into a hot streak that lasted through two road upsets in the playoffs. Sophomore defensive tackle Brent Russell followed up on his outstanding freshman year by leading the nation's seventh-best defense and earning a nomination for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best FCS defensive player in the nation. And with Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets transfer Jaybo Shaw distributing the rock, the Eagles finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards.
But Southern isn't done yet.
Returning 23 of 24 starters, including Shaw, Russell, FCS kicker of the year nominee Adrian Mora, two third-team All America honorees (cornerback Laron Scott and linebacker Brett Moore), leading rusher Robert Brown (a freshman), and ... well, OK, everybody but will linebacker E.J. Webb, Southern is in very good shape for next year. The Eagles only lose six players from their entire postseason two-deep, and Shaw could be among nine or more seniors to start next year.
This year was supposed to be a dry run, but with a year of experience in Monken's offense and almost all of this D returning, the Eagles are a Southern Conference team to watch in 2011.