JAUDON SPORTS: Under Clay Helton, Georgia Southern football determined to prove preseason predictions wrong

Georgia Southern Head Coach Clay Helton keeps a watchful eye as the Eagles warm-up for the first spring practice.

Last week, the Sun Belt Conference held its annual Football Media Days in New Orleans. Georgia Southern was predicted to finish fifth (of seven) in the SBC East division by the league’s coaches. That isn’t all that surprising. Massive overhaul in personnel and philosophy likely means a “rebuilding year” for the squad in Statesboro.

The Eagles (3-9, 2-6 in 2021) are entering year one of the Clay Helton era, as the former Southern Cal coach is transitioning the program away from the option-offense and into a more traditional pro-style. As in the coach’s preseason poll, GS isn’t getting much love from preseason magazines either (not that Helton cares).

Lindy’s Sports has GS predicted to finish seventh in the East and 12th (of 14) in the Sun Belt. Among 131 NCAA FBS teams, Lindy’s has Southern at No. 120 to begin the season. Don’t like Lindy’s? Well then there’s Phil Steele’s College Football Preview magazine and his predictions for Helton and company are similar. Steele has GS finishing seventh in the SBC East and ranked No. 114 overall. Not exactly a glowing outlook is it?

ESPN’s Bill Connelly annually produces the SP+ rankings for college football and his metrics are based solely on the numbers. Even his stat-driven formula spits out Georgia Southern at No. 114 overall.

These predictions have been wrong in the past. And could they be wrong again this season? Sure. Helton is preaching competing, and his team will need it as they’ll be playing in the toughest division in all of Group of Five football. A glance at the schedule and it’s safe to say that GS will only be favored in three (maybe four) games all year. Last season, the Eagles were favored in just two games.

“Understand this: We compete on a day-to-day basis,” said Helton from the podium in New Orleans. “I’ve always believed in the real world, you’re just fighting for another 24 hours. I don’t care if you’re a media member, a coach or a player. You are fighting to be the No. 1 guy.”

A transfer from the University of Buffalo, Kyle Vantrease will be the quarterback for Helton and offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis. Together, the trio is hoping to do well enough to fend off any lingering loyalties to the option offense in Statesboro. To be clear, those loyalties do still exist and a season like many are projecting could be damning for the new regime. Nobody will be fired and nothing will change just because of one season, but getting this transition off to a good start (say five or six wins) will be critical in moving the program forward.

Connelly gives the Eagles a 28% chance of making a bowl game in 2022. Georgia Southern has dealt with worse odds than that in the past, and the Eagles will be driven to prove the doubters wrong come September. There won’t be a lack of bulletin board material, if anything, there may just be a shortage of bulletin boards.

Things are simply better when GS is good. And as Connelly wrote in April, fans of the sport should be hoping the Eagles are good sooner rather than later.

“College football is a lot more fun when Georgia Southern is puffing its chest out and slapping teams around in Statesboro.”

Here’s to hoping.


SPORTS NOTES

A local programming update … ESPN Savannah (104.3fm) has a new Monday-Friday morning drive show which began on August 1. “Second Down” with Christian Goeckel and PJ Zucco airs from 8 a.m. - 10 a.m. on 104.3fm in Savannah and on the ESPN app. The duo was regularly broadcasting for an hour (2 p.m. - 3 p.m.) ahead of the afternoon drive staple with Kevin Thomas, BJ Bennett and Ben Troupe, “Three & Out.” Goeckel says his show will still focus primarily on college football as it always has, but local high school football and the NFL will also be regular topics on the program.

High school football is around the corner, with teams in the area beginning their regular season on Friday, August 19. This Friday (Aug. 5), however, is the unofficial start of Friday Night Lights. Vidalia High School and head coach Jason Cameron will be playing at Calvary Day for a scrimmage at CDS. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

FOLLOW Travis Jaudon on Twitter/Instagram @JaudonSports. Email him at travisLjaudon@gmail.com. Listen to him on Hot Grits Podcast, Savannah’s No. 1 sports podcast. New episodes are released each Tuesday.



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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