STATESBORO, Ga. — About two years ago, then-Furman coach Bobby Lamb not only proclaimed Georgia Southern was back to dominating the division, but the first team of coach Jeff Monken would be his worst team.
You think Lamb was on to something?
After Georgia Southern’s wild 32-28 win over Furman to earn an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the Eagles rattled off three consecutive postseason victories to advance to the semifinals.
The next season, Georgia Southern shot to No. 1 in the nation in the third week of the season, won its first Southern Conference title since 2004 and again marched to the FCS semifinals.
This is Year 3 in the Monken era, and if Lamb’s prognostication holds true, the Eagles should be soaring even higher.
“(Getting to the semifinals) just makes us want to work a little harder,” senior linebacker and former Thomson standout Darius Eubanks said. “We know if we buy in to what the coaches are telling us, we can compete with anyone. Hopefully, this year we’ll get over the hump.”
The Sports Network and the FCS Coaches top 25 preseason polls ranked Georgia Southern third. Media and coaches in the Southern Conference picked the Eagles as preseason favorites to win the league.
Monken says high expectations from the outside shouldn’t shake up his players.
“We expected to compete the first day I took the job,” Monken said. “There’s no external pressure greater than the internal pressure we have for our own program. We expect to be the best football program we can possibly be and compete with anybody at this level. I don’t think (our players) feel pressure from anywhere else (other) than right here in our own football program.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We have high expectations, and we’ll set standards that give us a chance to meet those expectations.”
It’s been a busy, eventful time in Statesboro. The Eagles announced plans for a $36.6 million fund-raising campaign to enhance the athletics program, starting with a $10 million Football Operations Center at Paulson Stadium.
A few months later, school president Dr. Brooks Keel said the Eagles would move up to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level (85 scholarships).
Now it’s football season and focus shifts to adding a seventh national championship flag at Paulson Stadium.
It won’t be easy. The Eagles seemingly need to restock half the lineup when the season kicks off Saturday night in Paulson Stadium against Jacksonville University.
But if there’s concern over an unproven starting quarterback, the bad back of a top running back, inexperienced pieces in the offensive line or a new kicking unit, no one’s showing it.
“We approach the season like last year,” Georgia Southern defensive tackle Brent Russell said. “One game at a time is everyone’s mentality. I truly believe that’s how everyone is approaching it, and we’ll see how far we go. Treat every game like a playoff game.”