STATESBORO, Ga. - Inactivity surrounded the Dan J. Parrish Football Center this week. Most of Georgia Southern's football coaches got out of their offices and on the recruiting trails.
They don't usually get an early start on catching high school state playoff games and meeting recruits. But this was a different season in Statesboro.
For the first time since 1996, the Eagles failed to win the Southern Conference championship and were not invited to the Division I-AA playoffs.
"I know some of our players are going to look at those brackets and not be happy," coach Mike Sewak said. "Everyone would rather be at practice right now, getting ready for that first playoff game."
In August, the Eagles might have been looking ahead to playing in Chattanooga, site of the I-AA title game. Preseason pollsters ranked them second behind McNeese State after a strong ending to 2002, when Georgia Southern won 10 games in a row before its semifinal loss to national champion Western Kentucky.
A lot was expected from Georgia Southern. Not much was delivered in a 7-4 regular-season mark and a third-place finish in the conference.
The Eagles, ranked 22nd in Division I-AA, led or were tied in the fourth quarter of all three conference losses.But close isn't good enough for a program expected to annually compete for titles.
On offense, GSU scored a touchdown a game less and defensively gave up a touchdown a game more than the 2002 team. Turnovers were also problematic; the Eagles fell from a plus-3 turnover margin to minus-8.
So can the Eagles get back to elite status in 2004?
"(The 2004 season) will be a big year for Georgia Southern," Sewak said. "This group has tasted victory, and now they've been soured on defeat."
Northern Arizona (8-3) at McNeese State (10-1)
Florida Atlantic (9-2) at Bethune-Cookman (9-2)
Massachusetts (10-2) at Colgate (12-0)
Western Illinois (8-3) at Montana (9-3)
North Carolina A&T (10-2) at Wofford (10-1)
Jacksonville State (8-3) at Western Kentucky (8-3)
Southern Illinois (10-1) at Delaware (11-1)
Montana State (7-5) at Northern Iowa (9-2)
Saturday, Dec. 6
Northern Arizona-McNeese State winner vs. Florida Atlantic-Bethune-Cookman winner
Massachusetts-Colgate winner vs. Western Illinois-Montana winner
North Carolina A&T-Wofford winner vs. Jacksonville State-Western Kentucky winner
Southern Illinois-Delaware winner vs. Montana State- Northern Iowa winner
Saturday, Dec. 13
Saturday, Dec. 20
Championship, At Chattanooga, Tenn.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.