You can’t tell me these bowl games don’t matter. Some say there are too many, that they’ve lost their meaning, that 7-5 and 6-6 squads shouldn’t be rewarded. Nonsense, as if more college football is a bad thing. The Power-5 schools and their playoff will always dominate the headlines, but there are 130 FBS teams out there. Why should the big boys have all the fun?
Whoever is still clinging onto that narrative clearly did not watch the Camellia Bowl Saturday night. How could you watch the way Georgia Southern celebrated after Tyler Bass’s 40-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, and still believe that? If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought they won the Super Bowl. The thousands of Georgia Southern fans that stormed the streets of Montgomery pregame left with a memory they would never forget. Beating the Eastern Michigan Eagles felt like beating the Philadelphia Eagles. The reaction on Chad Lunsford’s face says it all.
The emotions were gushing out of every cell in Chad Lunsford’s body after the game, and he wasn’t the only one. Country star and GS alum Cole Swindell joined the team in the locker room postgame to perform the ceremonial elbowing of the chair. It might be just the Camellia Bowl to you, but for Eagle Nation, it means much, much more. It was the culmination of a season that will go down as one of the most remarkable in program’s storied history.
How can you blame Lunsford and his team for celebrating the way they did? 12 months ago this team finished 2-10, the worst record in modern Georgia Southern history. After starting the 2017 season 0-6, the little known assistant coach was brought in to perform triage on the once proud program. Fast forward to today, and the results exceeded even the most optimistic among the Eagle faithful. The 2018 Georgia Southern Eagles became only the 4th team in FBS history to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in one season.
10-3, no one could have predicted this. Not even in the wildest fever dream induced from drinking too much Eagle Creek water. I thought my 7-5 prediction was optimistic. It speaks volumes of Chad Lunsford’s intellect and character. His style is a little Dabo Swinney, a little PJ Fleck, with a dash of Shawn Michaels thrown in for good measure. He assembled a top-notch coaching staff with decades of experience. He put together one of the best recruiting classes in the Sun Belt in a short time frame last February. Then this season he won 10 games, beat App State, beat Georgia State, and won a bowl game.
I couldn’t be happier for seniors like Wesley Fields who stuck it out through tough times. Fields eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in this game. First player in GSU history to lead the team in both rushing and receiving in a single season. He was a freshman the last time Georgia Southern went to a bowl game in 2015. He probably didn’t expect it to take this long to get to a 2nd. His postgame reaction was everything you love about college athletics.
Hell of a first act for the first year head coach. It’s going to be tough to follow up. Next year the target will be the Eagles’ back. The schedule is absolutely brutal with trips to LSU, Minnesota, Arkansas State, App State, and Troy. Even the “cupcake” game is against an FCS semifinalist in Maine. Key players like Fields, Josh Moon, Sean Freeman, and Curtis Rainey will be gone. 10 wins will be difficult to duplicate, let alone exceed.
But if I’ve learned one thing, it is never to doubt Chad Kevin Lunsford. The juice is back in Georgia Southern football and the powers that be ought to make sure it stays that way. As we head into 2019, Eagle Nation can hang its head high once again.