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Offseason decisions key for Georgia Southern
Spring workouts will be coming to a close this week for Georgia Southern and some big decisions for the Eagles’ 2013 football season have to be made before the Aug. 31 kickoff.
Who do you redshirt — taking advantage of an NCAA ruling that allows athletes five years to compete in four seasons?
GSU is facing its transition years in its move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and, despite remaining in the Southern Conference for one more year, is ineligible for the conference title or a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
In 2014, the Eagles begin play in the Sun Belt Conference and would be eligible for the conference crown, but can’t go to a bowl game — the prize (the New Orleans Bowl) the league champ gets automatically.
GSU coach Jeff Monken has several options.
He can play out his hand, which nearly won the Eagles an FBS championship in 2012, or save a few valuable cards for 2014 and compete for the bigger pot.
The ace in all of this is quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who improved throughout last season and ran for 1,832 yards. McKinnon will be a senior for the 2013 season. He also has never been redshirted.
Southern wouldn’t exactly be folding on 2013 if McKinnon was redshirted. Ezayi Youyoute, who started 2012 and has already burned his redshirt year, could be the starting quarterback. Freshmen Kevin Ellison and Vegas Harley, who took all the snaps in spring workouts, could be the backups.
And don’t forget Southern recruited Cincinnati Enquirer’s high school player of the year quarterback Alfred Ramsby, who led Colerain High to an undefeated regular season and a No. 19 national ranking.
Ramsey ran for 1,688 yards and 18 touchdowns and threw for 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns. If Ramsey is as good as advertised, he could be redshirted — letting McKinnon play the 2013 season.
Other positions could undergo similar scrutiny. Fullback Dominique Swope, a 1,295-yard rusher last season, hasn’t been redshirted.
Robert Brown, a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman, has never been redshirted.
Nor All-American offensive linemen Dorian Byrd and Garrett Frye. Nor standout wide receiver Zach Walker.
Defensively, linemen Blake Riley and Josh Gebhardt and linebacker Patrick Flowe have redshirt years.
What would happen if Monken redshirted all of them?
Last year, GSU went 8-3 during the regular season, 6-2 in the Southern Conference. The SoCon should be better overall in 2013, but some teams look to be rebuilding.
Wofford loses the league’s offensive player of the year Eric Breitenstein. Elon’s conference-leading passer Thomas Wilson and standout wide receiver Aaron Mellette finished their eligibility.
Samford loses its senior starting quarterback. Furman won’t have talented running back Jerodis Williams.
Is it a stretch to think the Eagles can’t go at least 4-4 in the league and, with Savannah State and St. Francis as non-conference games, go 6-5 overall.
Would losing two victories in 2013 be worth having all those proven stars for GSU in 2014 when it enters the Sun Belt?
Don’t forget, not everyone in Eagle Nation has been in favor of the FBS move and the first season in the Sun Belt could go a long way in bringing fans together or adding more division.
Do you want to break in a new quarterback in your first year in the Sun Belt?
While Georgia Southern fans might cringe to have an athletic program compared to Savannah State, there are some similarities between the Eagles’ move into the Sun Belt and the Tiger basketball team’s step up into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
SSU redshirted post players Rashad Hassan and Arnold Louis – both starters and among the team’s top scorers as sophomores – during the final year of play as an Independent, saving them a year of eligibility when the Tigers moved into the MEAC.
SSU took some lumps without Hassan and Louis, but won the regular-season MEAC crown the next year with the duo and advanced to the NIT. SSU won 21 games last season.
It’s easy to speculate Georgia Southern’s moves, but not as easy to forecast the consequences. Certainly, the Eagles would like to continue the momentum generated by the hiring of Monken three years ago. GSU has 31 wins since his arrival and advanced to the FCS semifinals each year.
And what would redshirting several star players tell the remaining players?
Every year, Monken and his staff face similar dilemmas when determining the value of the true freshmen. Some fill immediate needs. Others benefit from a year of acclimating to the game.
Now a lot more members of the football team could be under a microscope.
The question is how much of the present are you willing to sacrifice for the future?
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News