SoCon Media Day Recap
By Matthew Osborne
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Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford, amongst others, will battle it out for SoCon supremacy this fall.
As expected, the Georgia Southern Eagles are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as Southern Conference champions in 2012.
Set to return 16 starters from last season, this team will, by all accounts, be the most talented team that head coach Jeff Monken has possessed during his tenure in Statesboro.
Despite having a target on their back as the prohibitive favorites in the conference this fall, the Eagles plan on keeping the same mentality that led them to back-to-back semifinal appearances in the FCS playoffs.
“We approach this season the same way we’ve approached the last two. Preseason rankings don’t mean anything,” Monken said at SoCon Media Day in Spartanburg. “We have to try to be the best team we can be each week on Saturday afternoon, and do our best to win every game.”
Georgia Southern will undoubtedly win its fair share of games, but in order for the team to repeat as SoCon champions, the Eagles will need either Jerick McKinnon or Ezayi Youyoute to step up and replace the production of departed quarterback Jaybo Shaw.
Both McKinnon and Youyoute saw action under center for the Eagles last season, and, according to their head coach, both signal callers will see additional time this fall.
“I thought both of our quarterbacks had a good spring,” remarked Monken. “Both of them will play quarterback. There are enough things that both of them do well at the quarterback position, that we’re not comfortable taking either one of them out of the quarterback position and playing them somewhere else exclusively.”
Defensively, the Eagles will be looking for multiple playmakers to emerge in the secondary, as Georgia Southern was forced to play a very youthful group of defensive backs last season due to a variety of different issues.
Fortunately for Coach Monken, the Eagle defense will be anchored by a solid front seven, led by All-American DT Brent Russell.
“I think Brent Russell is the best defensive player in the country at our level,” Monken said of his defensive stalwart. “He is a dominating football player. He’s strong, he’s got great hands, and he plays with tremendous passion.”
The Eagles are undoubtedly talented and experienced on both sides of the football, but in arguably the deepest and most talented conference in FCS football, Georgia Southern will need to bring its A-game every week if they have aspirations of repeating as conference champs.
Wofford and Appalachian State Right in the Mix
Although Georgia Southern was the solid pick as preseason champion, Wofford and Appalachian State both received first-place votes from members of the media.
With both schools coming off of disappointing playoff finishes, the Terriers and the Mountaineers alike are using last season’s undesired endings as motivation for the upcoming season.
“It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. We didn’t show up that day, and we didn’t play to our ability,” Mountaineer quarterback Jamal Jackson said of App State’s season-ending loss to Maine. “That definitely has been my motivation heading into the summertime because I don’t want to go home with that feeling again.”
For Wofford, perhaps the greatest disappointment of last season came when the Terriers dropped the regular season finale at home to Georgia Southern, in the game which determined the SoCon championship.
Although it was not a playoff game, RB Eric Breitenstein says the pain of the loss to Georgia Southern has served as extra motivation heading into fall camp, especially with the knowledge that the contest with the Eagles could once again be a major determining factor in the conference championship race.
“It’s definitely a sour taste,” the All-American said. “Every year I play against Georgia Southern, I walk away saying ‘could it be more physical?’ I don’t think so. They do a great job there, but we have to play our game. I’m confident that we can win. We just have to do our job and sustain it for four quarters.”
The Eagles have earned the right to be called preseason favorites, but there certainly is not a large disparity in talent between the top three teams in the conference. Georgia Southern is the overwhelming favorite, but be sure to keep an eye on Appalachian State and Wofford.
Miscellaneous News and Notes
• SoCon commissioner John Iamarino noted that the conference ranked fifth out of 31 Division I football conferences last season in Academic Progress Rates (APR).
• The SoCon recently signed a deal with ESPN3, which will give the network exclusive rights to eight conference games this fall. Six of the games have already been predetermined, while the final two weeks of the regular season have been designated as “Wildcard Weekends”. Every conference team is schedule to appear at least once during the course of the season.
2012 SoCon Football Telecast Schedule on ESPN3
Sept. 8 – Montana at Appalachian State (6:30 p.m.)
Sept. 29 – Samford at Georgia Southern (6:00 p.m.)
Oct. 13 – Chattanooga at Furman (1:30 p.m.)
Oct. 20 – Western Carolina at Elon (3:00 p.m.)
Oct. 27 – The Citadel at Wofford (1:30 p.m.)
Nov. 3 – Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (2:00 p.m.)
Nov. 10 – Wildcard Weekend (TBA)
Nov. 17 – Wildcard Weekend (TBA)