By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Having completed the minefield of competition in the Southern Conference with their first football championship since 2004, the Georgia Southern Eagles are aiming a little higher this weekend.
The Eagles are headed to historic Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL. to take on Alabama, the third-ranked team in the Bowl Championship Series.
This comes after GSU clinched the Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football playoffs last Saturday with a 31-10 win at Wofford.
You might could jointly call this the back-to-their roots, SoCon-Southeastern Conference showdown, with Georgia Southern being among the four Southern Conference teams taking on SEC opponents on Saturday.
In other games, Auburn entertains Samford, with Samford coach Pat Sullivan returning to the place where he won the Heisman Trophy as the Tigers’ quarterback in 1971, Florida hosts Furman and South Carolina brings in The Citadel — a Gamecock team that the Bulldogs upset 38-35 in 1990.
A lot of fans don’t remember that the SEC grew out of the Southern Conference, with the SEC schools splitting from the SoCon in 1931 and forging a league that is arguably the best in Division I college sports.
For Georgia Southern, the game with Alabama can be viewed as little more than a tune-up for the playoffs.
A win by the Eagles would rank as the biggest FCS-FBS upset of all-time, bettering Appalachian State’s 34-32 victory over No. 5-ranked Michigan to open the 2007 season and James Madison’s 21-16 win over Virginia Tech last season.
But the Jeff Monken-coached Eagles would probably rather hoist a seventh national championship flag behind one of the end zones at Paulson Stadium than worry too much about Alabama.
After cruising to a 7-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision this season, Georgia Southern started to spin its wheels for two and a half games.
The Eagles lost to arch-rival Appalachian State, 24-17, on the road and then needed two missed extra points and a blown field goal at the end of the game at home by The Citadel to hang on for a 14-12 victory.
For most of the first half on Saturday, Georgia Southern’s triple option struggled again, with Wofford carrying a 7-3 lead deep into the second quarter.
But surprisingly, it was a pass on a third and 10 play that put the Eagles back on top and they didn’t look back in the second half.
Quarterback Jaybo Shaw hit Zach Walker for a 21-yard touchdown strike with seven seconds on the clock to send Georgia Southern to the locker room with a 10-7 lead.
The Eagles expanded their advantage to 17-7 on their first possession of the third quarter as Shaw directed an 11-play, 90-yard drive that took over five minutes off the clock. Shaw’s three-yard run accounted for the score.
From there, Wofford was hard pressed to move against the Eagle defense and GSU played keep-away while adding a couple of more touchdowns.
Georgia Southern built a 25-12 advantage in first downs and held a nearly-14-minute edge in time of possession in a game between two of the better option attacks in FCS. The Terriers only managed 278 yards of total offense.
Shaw was 6-of-11 passing for 111 yards and rushed 18 times for 40 yards and scored all three second-half touchdowns.
Dominique Swope proved to be vital to Georgia Southern’s success with 27 carries for 165 yards.
Wofford (7-3, 5-2) went from having a shot at the auto bid to now needing a win at Chattanooga just to make the playoffs.
Should the Terriers fall to Chattanooga (5-5, 3-4), they would have only six Division I wins and would likely be eliminated from postseason consideration. Chattanooga was off last weekend.
While there was still the potential of a four-tie for first place in the Southern Conference, heading into Saturday’s play, things cleared up quickly by the time all of the games had ended for the weekend.
Appalachian State solidified its playoff resume with a 46-14 victory at home against Western Carolina in the battle for the Old Mountain Jug.
A day later, WCU coach Dennis Wagner announced his resignation after four years with just eight victories. The Catamounts are 1-9 overall and 0-8 in league, with their only win this season coming against Division II Mars Hill with one non-league game to play against Coastal Carolina.
Drew Stewart kicked a school-record six field goals for the Mountaineers, breaking the record of four established by Jay Milson in 1991 against Furman. Stewart had kicks of 44, 32, 29, 21, 27 and 24 yards.
Brian Quick, expected to be the first FCS player chosen in the 2012 NFL draft and a player that could possibly go late in the first round, became ASU’s all-time career-receiving-yards leader, breaking the mark of 3,124 set by Rick Beasley from 1978-80.
Quick had 111 yards on seven catches, including a 28-yard TD reception in the second quarter.
Quarterback Jamal Jackson was 22-of-34 for 261 yards and a touchdown before giving way to DeAndre Presley in the second half.
Presley, the quarterback-turned-cornerback, tuned up for the postseason with a 3-of-5 for 51-yards passing performance.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 5-2) can wrap up a playoff berth and probably a first-round bye and second-round home game with a win at Elon on Saturday.
The Mountaineers had their record-tying run of six consecutive Southern Conference titles snapped by Georgia Southern’s win on Saturday.
Elon all but derailed another team’s postseason aspirations by stunning Furman on the road last weekend, 41-34.
Trailing 20-13 at halftime, Elon (5-5, 3-4) tied the game in the third period behind the arm of Thomas Wilson (20-of-26 passing for 279 yards and four TDs) and Joshua Jones (13 tackles) made the play of the day when he intercepted a fourth-quarter pass by Chris Forcier and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
Forcier was 18-of-33 for 344 yards and three TDs, but threw two costly interceptions, including one in the end zone that Elon’s Akeem Langham grabbed to end the Paladins’ hopes.
A.J. Harris helped balance the Phoenix attack with 111 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Heading into the Elon game with a slim chance to win a share of the league championship, now at 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the SoCon, the only hope Furman has of reaching the playoffs is to upset Florida on Saturday.
Samford (6-4, 4-4) held off The Citadel (4-6, 2-6) 19-14 in a defensive struggle that had no bearing on the playoff picture. Quarterback Dustin Taliaferro (34-of-45 for 240 yards and a TD passing) scored from the two with six seconds remaining to pull out the win for Samford.