Georgia Southern at James Madison
11:00 AM CT on ESPN2
The Sun Belt has turned into one of college football’s most fun leagues over the last few seasons. These programs have done a great job of contributing to that. Former USC HC Clay Helton took over Georgia Southern last season, and he’s done what many would’ve assumed to be impossible: taken a program that’s been forever built upon running the triple option and immediately transforming them into one of the nation’s most prolific passing offenses.
When Helton got to Statesboro, he chose to follow the mold his brother Tyson took at Western Kentucky, ditching much of the traditional pro-style attack both had run throughout their careers in favor of the Air Raid. With the help of some transfers, they engineered one of the most impressively successful offensive overhauls in recent memory.
They’re doing it again this season behind Tulsa-transfer QB Davis Brin, who’s averaging over 320 pass yards a game, and a great group of receivers. The Eagles are 4-1, with their lone loss coming on the road at Wisconsin. And if not for Brin throwing five interceptions against the Badgers (he’s thrown just two others beyond that game), Southern actually could’ve had a shot in that game.
And then there’s James Madison, who after years of dominance in the FCS ranks, made the move up to the Sun Belt. The Dukes immediately cemented themselves as one of the league’s best, posting a 6-2 conference record. Unfortunately for JMU, the NCAA has some ridiculous rules (shocking, I know) for programs transitioning upwards that makes them ineligible to play for a conference title or appear in a bowl game, and those restrictions still apply this year.
It’s a shame, because JMU may very well be the Sun Belt’s best. The Dukes are 5-0 with wins over Virginia and a fair of Sun Belt title contenders in Troy and South Alabama. JMU has the nation’s best run defense behind a dominant trio of defensive lineman. Although, that may not mean much against GSU. JMU’s pass defense has been a major liability, and the Eagles can exploit it.
These teams played a crazy shootout last season. While archaic rules prevent this from having direct championship stakes, this game will have that type of vibe.