STATESBORO, GA. -- The old winning feeling is back.
Georgia Southern University has finished the football season with an 11-0 record and first-place national ranking in Division I-AA.
Statesboro, a farming community of more than 21,000, is hoping the dry spell ends this year under coach Paul Johnson.
Erk Russell, who started the Georgia Southern football program from scratch in 1982, guided the Eagles to national championships in 1985 and 1986. He retired after his 1989 team went undefeated and won a third national title.
Russell's successor, Tim Stowers, coached the 1990 team to a national championship, but there have been none since.
"It's been a happy place," said fan Kelly Richardson. "It's been good for the town."
Georgia Southern's Southern Conference win sets it up to host a first-round game with Colgate Saturday in the Division I-AA playoffs.
The playoffs will boost the local economy, keeping students in town and bringing in adult fans, Richardson said.
"When they're losing, they don't attend," he said.
Just two years ago, the Eagles were losing, finishing 4-7 under Frank Ellwood, who served as interim coach after Stowers resigned. When Stowers lost the job, the Eagles went 9-4.
People may have been spoiled by Russell's success and his final undefeated season, said Tom McClellan, the school's assistant athletic director.
"God forbid you go 7-4 or 8-3," he said.
Johnson's success as coach has been good for Statesboro's morale and economy, said Bruce Yawn, owner of Snooky's cafe.
"It's just an excitement that generates people stirring about," he said. "They're out shopping. That generates business."
The football team's success has certainly generated business on campus at the University Store, where manager Richie A. Akins said clothing and novelty sales are especially good.
"When they win, everybody wants to be on the bandwagon," Akins said.
The 1998 season has taken away some of the Christmas shopping worries for student Rachel Ellis, who no longer wonders what to buy her mother.
"I was thinking about one of those, `I'm a Georgia Southern Mom' sweatshirts," she said. "My mom always has the headphones on on Saturdays, listening to the game."
The business is not confined to campus, said Peggy Chapman, director of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a tremendous boost for the tourist economy," she said. "When you get into the playoffs, people come from out of town."
They come and they stay awhile, filling motels, buying gasoline and eating at restaurants.
With only 800 hotel rooms in Statesboro, there is a spillover from crowds of 20,000 fans into surrounding communities, such as Metter and Claxton, and all the way to Savannah, a 45-minute drive east.
The university and Bulloch County have both grown.
When football started in 1982, the enrollment at what was known as Georgia Southern College was about 6,000. This year's enrollment is 13,900.
The town is growing more rapidly, with 1,000 new jobs each year and nearly 1,000 new residents.
When: Colgate (8-3) at Georgia Southern (11-0), Saturday, 1 p.m.
Eagles focus: Georgia Southern, the top seed in the Division I-AA playoffs, hosts Patriot League runnerup Colgate. The two teams have never met and the Eagles have never met a team from the Patriot League. The Eagles were off last week after completing an unbeaten regular season on Nov. 14.
Red Raiders focus: Colgate will have to slow down freshman running back Adrian Paterson and quarterback Greg Hill to have any chance of beating the Eagles. After a 41-22 loss to Patriot League champion Lehigh on Nov. 7, Colgate rebounded to win its final two games.
Key matchup: Colgate's defensive front against Georgia Southern's offense, which averages 492.6 yards per game and 42.5 points per game.
Injury update: For Georgia Southern, FS Ryan Hadden (fractured right fibula) is out; Dante Harrow (torn ACL) is out; WR Chris Johnson (ankle fracture) is out; SB James Banks (right knee) probable; LB Larry Rogers (quad strain) questionable.
Sept. 5 -- W, Elon, 31-17
Sept. 12 -- W, Jacksonville State, 51-32
Sept. 19 -- W, Wofford, 45-10
Sept. 26 -- W, Chattanooga, 42-25
Oct. 3 -- W, VMI 63-7
Oct. 10 -- W, Western Carolina, 28-21
Oct. 17 -- W, Appalachian State, 37-24
Oct. 24 -- W, The Citadel, 51-34
Oct. 31 -- W, East Tennessee State, 47-26
Nov. 7 -- W, Furman, 45-17
Nov. 14 -- W, South Florida, 28-23
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