(Part 8 of an 11-part Sun Belt Conference preview series)
Georgia Southern enters its first season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference with a new look.
First-year head coach Willie Fritz has implemented the spread in place of the triple option.
When Jeff Monken accepted the head coaching vacancy at Army, Georgia Southern turned to Fritz, who guided Sam Houston State to back-to-back FCS national runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012. Entering his 22nd year as a head coach, Fritz has compiled a 176-67 record at Sam Houston, Central Missouri and Blinn College.
A longtime FCS power, Georgia Southern won six national championships from 1985-2000.
Ineligible for the playoffs during their transition year from the FCS to the FBS, the Eagles posted a 7-4 record, including a 4-4 mark in the Southern Conference. Finishing strong, the Eagles closed out with three straight wins, including a 26-20 victory over Florida in the season finale.
In their final two seasons under Monken, the Eagles led the nation in rushing, averaging 360.4 yards per game last season.
Seven starters return on offense; five on defense.
Sophomore quarterback Kevin Ellison passed for 756 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions last season and was the team's second-leading rusher with 886 yards and eight scores. Ellison is being challenged by another sophomore, Florida International transfer Favian Upshaw.
Junior wide receiver BJ Johnson led the team in receiving last fall with a modest 12 catches for 216 yards.
Sophomore running back Matt Breida and redshirt freshman L.A. Ramsby, a converted quarterback, are the top two candidates to replace Jerick McKinnon (161 carries, 1,050 yards, 12 touchdowns) at running back.
Senior left tackle Garrett Frye is the mainstay on the offensive line.
Senior middle linebacker Edwin Jackson (92 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks), last year's leading tackler, junior free safety Matt Dobson (44 tackles, 2 interceptions), senior nickel back Deion Stanley (3 tackles, INTs) and junior defensive tackle Jonathan Battle (34 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 blocked kicks) are the nucleus of the defense.