JAUD0N SPORTS: Georgia Southern headed to bowl game in Clay Helton’s first year

Georgia Southern players, fans and coaches celebrate on the field following their Saturday November 26, 2022 double overtime win over Appalachian State.| USATNSYNDICATION

There was never a doubt. Well, maybe there was some doubt. No matter, the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday in Statesboro became bowl eligible with a 51-48 double overtime win over rival Appalachian State. Under first-year head coach Clay Helton, Georgia Southern finished its regular season with a 6-6 overall record and a 3-5 record within the Sun Belt Conference.

Now granted, that’s not exactly a pristine record. And yes, Southern flirted with disaster by losing three of its final four games. All of that is ancient history now that this team is going bowling. Six wins means bowl eligibility and if Eagle fans were told that they’d be bowl eligible before this season ever began, they would have taken it in a second.

GS fans don’t often celebrate a .500 mark on the football field. But this season is different for so many reasons. A new coach, a new offensive scheme (from option to air raid) and dozens of new players meant a long, rebuilding season for the Eagles. Or so we thought.

Before the season, ESPN gave Georgia Southern a 28% chance of reaching the minimum six-win requirement to become bowl eligible. The Eagles have turned those odds upside down and now they are looking at bowl destination possibilities such as the Cure Bowl (in Orlando) or the Myrtle Beach Bowl. Think this doesn’t matter? Think again.

“We’ve got one opportunity and that’s what I told the team,” Helton said before the App State game. “We’ve got an opportunity to go to the postseason for a lot of players that deserve it. But like I told them, I can’t give it to them; we’ve got to go earn it.”

And earn it they did. GS will be playing in its fifth bowl game since joining the FBS ranks in 2014.

“We get this next time to celebrate a season and a reward to our players,” said Helton after the App State win.

“This is critical.”

Southern joins other Sun Belt teams like Louisiana, Southern Miss, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, South Alabama and Troy in bowl eligibility. Bowls will announce their matchups on Sunday, December 4.

Is it important that Georgia Southern wins its bowl game, wherever it may be? Ehhh. Not really. The mere fact that the Eagles are in a bowl means this season was a success. It means that Georgia Southern is on the right track and the program can sell that for the remainder of the off-season, especially so when the transfer portal opens up true chaos in the days ahead.

Going to a bowl is not as easy as one might think. In fact, Georgia Southern is one of only two Peach State teams going bowling (UGA). That means something to recruits considering schools like Georgia State or Georgia Tech. Those teams will be sitting at home while the Eagles get a chance to play a postseason game on national television. So, for anyone left wondering if GS made the right decision in hiring Helton and moving on from the option offense, they can wonder no more.


SPORTS NOTES:

The Georgia Bulldogs finished the regular season 12-0 for the second straight year, after defeating rival Georgia Tech 37-14 at home on Saturday. The ‘Dogs move on to take on LSU in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 2. Most consider them to be a virtual lock to make the playoffs for the second year in a row to defend their 2021 National Championship.

The Savannah Ghost Pirates Hockey team is doing well in its inaugural season in the ECHL at Enmarket Arena. The team boasts rather rabid fan support and holds a winning record early in the season. The team will host several upcoming games on Dec. 1, 2, and 8, with Friday’s game featuring “Spongebob Squarepants” on Nickelodeon night. Visit ghostpirateshockey.com for information and tickets.

About The Author

Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon has been writing in Savannah since 2016 and is host of Hot Grits Podcast.
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