Sun Belt


#77 Georgia Southern Eagles





HEAD COACH: Willie Fritz, 9-3 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Ruse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jack Curtis

Georgia Southern made the transition to the FCS level with ease, winning nine games and claiming the Sun Belt title with a 8-0 record. The Eagles were ineligible for the postseason last season, but that's not the case for Willie Fritz' team in 2015. The Sun Belt's top scoring offense and defense returns 10 starters, as Georgia Southern's productive triple-option attack (381.1 rushing ypg) looks to prove that 2014 was no fluke.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Offense for 2015

Georgia Southern threw more often and more effectively in Willie Fritz’s first season as head coach, incorporating some spread principles he brought from Sam Houston State into the more traditional triple-option the Eagles ran so effectively at the FCS level. But Fritz believes there’s even more room for the passing game to grow in 2015 while maintaining dominance in the rushing attack, which generated 381.1 yards per game.

“We led the nation in rushing, but we were subpar as far as throwing the ball,” Fritz said. “That’s a point of emphasis for us.”

Having a second year in Fritz’s system should benefit junior quarterbacks Kevin Ellison, who ran for 1,096 yards, and Favian Upshaw, who played well when Ellison was sidelined with minor injuries. Junior running back Matt Breida also returns after averaging 8.7 yards per carry.

An overhaul on the offensive line, however, raises some questions. The Eagles return a potential all-conference anchor at left guard in Darien Foreman and added UAB transfer Roscoe Byrd at right guard. But they will have to replace five seniors who made their rushing success possible. Fritz is counting on newcomers and sophomores who played backup snaps last year to be more adept at pass protection, but he acknowledges that some offensive line positions won’t be won until fall camp. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Georgia Southern led the Sun Belt in scoring defense (23.4 ppg) and was third in total defense (388.1 ypg), but Fritz wants the Eagles to generate more turnovers (20 last season).

“This will be my 23rd year as a head coach, and when we’ve been plus-1 or better in turnovers, we’ve won 91 percent of our games,” Fritz said.

With 16 contributors returning from last season, the Eagles have enough depth to take another step defensively. They will, however, undoubtedly miss middle linebacker Edwin Jackson, who accounted for 100 total tackles, and four-year starter Deion Stanley at safety/nickel back.

Senior Deshawntee Gallon, who moves from a backup to starting role, and senior Antwione Williams should give the Eagles one of the league’s better linebacking corps. They’ll work behind a defensive line that returns nine contributors and its two most productive players in end Bernard Dawson and nose tackle Jay Ellison.

Georgia Southern gave up 234.4 passing yards per game last year and will need to play better on the back end, which is why Fritz signed a slew of defensive backs.

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Specialists for 2015

In an otherwise great year, this was a sore spot. Primary kicker Alex Hanks missed seven extra points and made just one of his last four field goals after starting 9-of-10. If his accuracy doesn’t improve, the Eagles may look to junior Younghoe Koo, who made five field goals in 2013 but none last season. There’s also room for improvement in the punting game. 

Final Analysis

Georgia Southern’s first year as an FBS member could hardly have gone better, as the Eagles went 8–0 in the Sun Belt and came within a couple plays of knocking off NC State and Georgia Tech. Don’t count on the Eagles getting complacent either, as NCAA rules governing FCS-to-FBS transitions prevented them from playing in a bowl game.

“We deserved a chance to go,” Foreman says. “We felt like it wasn’t fair, but that’s a big motivation for us this offseason.” Georgia Southern should only get more potent as Fritz molds and recruits players who fit his offense. If the defense plays at the same level or improves, the Eagles could easily repeat as conference champs. 


#76 Arkansas State Red Wolves





HEAD COACH: Blake Anderson, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Walt Bell, Glen Elarbee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Cauthen

Blake Anderson maintained Arkansas State's streak of winning seasons and bowl berths in his first year at the helm. The Red Wolves went 7-6 under their rookie head coach, stretching both their string of winning seasons and bowl appearances (all of them to the GoDaddy Bowl) to four. Anderson has his sights set even higher in 2015, as Arkansas State enters the season the favorites in the Sun Belt on the strength of an offense that returns nine starters.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Arkansas State’s Offense for 2015

Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten and eight other starters return after setting ASU records for points and total offense in their first season in Blake Anderson’s fast-paced system. Speed makes Knighten dangerous on the move, and he was an accurate passer in his first year as a starter, completing 62 percent of his attempts and accounting for 4,000-plus yards of total offense.

Injuries cost senior running back Michael Gordon two games last season, yet he finished with 1,100 yards while averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Sophomore Johnston White was dependable in a backup role, but the Red Wolves missed Gordon’s big-play ability when he was out. A freshman will have an opportunity to play his way into the rotation.

The top six receivers return, led by Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic and Dijon Paschal. One of the Sun Belt’s most dynamic players, McKissic was hampered by injuries last fall after catching 185 passes in his first two seasons. Houston and Paschal are tall targets on the perimeter, while 6'5" tight end Darion Griswold provides versatility at his position.

The Red Wolves spent spring practice shuffling their offensive line, especially at the interior positions. ASU didn’t run the ball effectively enough in short-yardage or goal-line situations to suit Anderson, who stressed a more physical approach in the spring.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Arkansas State’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

ASU’s defensive line deficiencies were exposed in the second half of the season. Opponents scored 28 rushing touchdowns over the final seven games, including seven by Toledo in the GoDaddy Bowl, while averaging 283 rushing yards during that span. The Red Wolves are counting on transfers Robert Mondie, Waylon Roberson and Jake Swalley to help sophomore Chuks Ota shore up the interior line. Mondie joined his brother Devin, a starting offensive lineman, at ASU when UAB dropped football. Roberson and Swalley are junior college transfers who also moved up the depth chart quickly in the spring. ASU has proven talent at end with senior Chris Stone and sophomore Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who combined for 15.5 sacks last season.

Xavier Woodson, the Red Wolves’ second-leading tackler last year with 95, moves into a leadership role at linebacker with the departure of All-Sun Belt linebacker Qushaun Lee.

While the secondary suffered significant losses, the Red Wolves return two safeties (Chris Humes and Charleston Girley) who were starters before suffering injuries early last season. Rocky Hayes could be among the league’s best cornerbacks, and junior college transfers Cody Brown and Allen Sentimore will contribute at safety.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Specialists for 2015

Extra points and field goals were an adventure for the Red Wolves, who missed eight PATs and made only 61 percent of their field-goal attempts. Luke Ferguson (8-of-15 last season) and several newcomers will compete for the job in the fall. Ferguson was more consistent as a punter, averaging 41 yards while placing 22 punts inside the 20-yard line. Blaise Taylor took over on punt returns as a true freshman, averaging 8.1 yards, and is one of several possibilities on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis 

The Red Wolves’ depth chart started to show the effects of four coaching changes in four seasons last fall. ASU was critically thin in key areas, starting with the defensive line, before a rash of season-ending injuries made matters worse. Still, there was enough talent on hand to pull out seven victories and make a fourth straight bowl trip. Anderson’s second season starts with a difficult non-conference schedule, but ASU won’t face defending Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern in conference play. While the Red Wolves should put up plenty of points, they will have to improve defensively to maximize their potential.

More Stories: