(Part 7 of a 12-part Sun Belt Conference football preview series)
Georgia Southern will need an influx of first-year starters to come through as it tries to bounce back from its first losing season since 2006.
Only nine starters (4 offense, 4 defense, 1 specialist) return from last year's disappointing outfit which finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Offensively, the Eagles ranked fifth in the conference in scoring (26.6 points per game), second in rushing (224.2 yards per game), 11th in passing (155.7 ypg) and sixth in total yardage (379.8 ypg).
All three quarterbacks are missing from last season, leaving redshirt freshman Shai Werts as the starter. Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw used up their eligibility, and sophomore Seth Shuman opted to focus on baseball.
Junior Wesley Fields (94 carries, 492 yards, 3 TDs) and senior L.A. Ramsby (84-343-8) are the projected starters in the backfield. Senior Demarcus Godfrey (14-124) and junior Troy Stewart (7-34) could also figure into the rotation.
Senior slotback Myles Campbell (31 carries, 384 yards, 4 TDs) is the team's only experienced receiver. Redshirt freshman Darion Anderson and sophomore Obe Fortune have risen to the top of the depth chart at the wide receivers, with senior Ross Alexander and junior Ellis Richardson competing for playing time at tight end.
The offensive line should be a strength with the return of a trio of juniors. Ryan Northrup is the left guard with Jeremiah Culbreath at right guard. Curtis Rainey has moved from right guard to center in place of first-team All-Sun Belt honoree Andy Kwon. Junior Tommy Boynton and sophomore Drew Wilson are the projected starting tacklers.
Four of the top five tacklers are missing from a defense which placed fifth in the conference in points allowed (26.5 ppg), sixth in rushing (167.1 ypg) and passing (229.5 ypg) and seventh in total yardage (396.6 ypg).
Key losses include linebackers Ukeme Eligwe, the Kansas City Chiefs' fifth-round draft pick, and first-team All-Sun Belt selection Ironhead Gallon.
Junior Joshua Moon (72 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 INTs) returns at free safety after ranking third on the team in tackles. Jay Bowdry has the edge at strong safety with sophomore classmates Kindle Vildor, Monquavion Brinson and Jessie Liptrot battling for the cornerback spots.
Senior Chris DeLaRosa (33 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), who was limited to seven games, is the lone incumbent linebacker. Redshirt freshman Rashad Byrd and junior RJ Murray assume starting roles alongside DeLaRosa.
Junior Logan Hunt (34 tackles, 3 TFL) and senior Darrius Sapp (19 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack) return to the interior, with redshirt freshmen Randy Wade Jr. and Travar Vliem manning the ends.
Senior Matt Flynn averaged 39.1 yards on 56 punts. However, the Eagles must replace first-team All-Conference kicker and Lou Groza Award semifinalist Younghoe Koo.
Junior Malik Henry returned 21 kickoffs for a 21.5-yard average.
2017 GEORGIA SOUTHERN SCHEDULE
(All times Central and subject to change)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 at Auburn 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 New Hampshire 5 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Indiana TBA
Oct. 4 (Wed.) Arkansas State* 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 New Mexico State* 5 p.m.
Oct. 21 at UMass 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Troy* TBA
Nov. 4 at Georgia State* 2 p.m.
Nov. 9 (Thurs.) at Appalachian State* 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 18 South Alabama* 2 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Louisiana-Lafayette* TBA
Dec. 2 at Coastal Carolina* TBA