Georgia Southern University has a fabled tradition in football. Since its program was revived in 1981, its Eagles have soared to 11 conference titles and an incredible six national championships in the former Division I-AA.
The only thing missing from their impressive résumé was a trip to a major college bowl game. That omission was corrected when GSU accepted a bid to play Bowling Green State University in the 17th annual GoDaddy Bowl on Dec. 23.
“We’re excited to be playing in the first bowl in Georgia Southern history,” GSU head coach Willie Fritz said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about the GoDaddy Bowl, and we’re looking forward to getting over there and experiencing what a bowl game at the Division I level is all about.”
Despite its previous success, GSU’s administration voted in 2012 to move up into the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Eagles joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 and were an immediate success, going 8-0 in league play and 9-3 overall. However, GSU was still in transitional status and remained home for the postseason.
The Eagles are 8-4 this year after going 6-2 in Sun Belt action. Among their losses was a dramatic 23-17 setback in overtime to the Georgia Bulldogs.
The key to GSU’s success is a running attack that led the nation with an average of 355.6 yards per game and 47 rushing touchdowns. Junior Matt Breida (1540 yards, 16 TD) was a Doak Walker Award semifinalist who led the nation last year by averaging 8.7 yards per carry. He leads this year at 8.3 yards per carry.
Next up are L.A. Ramsby (772 yards, 12 TD), quarterback Kevin Ellison (642 yards, 8 TD) and Wesley Fields (607 yards, 6 TD). Ellison surpassed 1,000 yards in passing and rushing last year.
The defense includes Matt Dobson, a three-year starter at safety. He was just named a first-team Academic All-American, earning a 3.71 grade point average while majoring in history. He was second-team all-SBC as a junior.
GSU was second in the Sun Belt in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and interceptions. The Eagles were sixth in the FBS, allowing 16.5 points per game.
Linebacker Antwione Williams led the Eagles with 97 total tackles. Next up are linebacker Deshawantee “Ironhead” Gallon (78 total tackles), Antonio Glover (54 total tackles, 6 interceptions) and Dobson (50 total tackles, 2 interceptions).
Joining Breida and Glover on the first-team all-SBC squad were offensive lineman Darien Foreman and return specialist Derek Keaton. The second-team unit had offensive lineman Andy Kwon plus defensive linemen Bernard Dawson and Jay Ellison. Honorable mention selections were Gallon, Ramsby, Antwione Williams and defensive back Caleb Williams. Fields, a freshman, was on the SBC newcomer team.
Bowling Green earned a return trip to the GoDaddy Bowl by capturing the Mid-American Conference title. The Falcons are fifth in the nation in scoring at 43.4 points per game.
“We are so excited about this post-season bowl game opportunity and want to thank the GoDaddy Bowl for selecting us,” Director of Athletics D. Christopher Kingston said. “This is a great opportunity for our Falcon family to make holiday plans to join us for our third bowl appearance in Ladd-Peebles Stadium … ”
Quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 4,700 yards and 43 touchdowns, with both marks leading the nation. These broke the conference records set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2003.
Bowling Green capped a 10-3 regular season by beating Northern Illinois 34-14 in the MAC title game. Following the game, head coach Dino Babers accepted the top job at Syracuse. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward will serve as interim head coach for the bowl game.
In addition to its title, Bowling Green pulled off two major victories against Big Ten competition. The Falcons won at Purdue and Maryland.
The Falcons had 11 players named all-conference. Johnson was the Offensive Player of the Year and also won the national Sammy Baugh Award. Wide receiver Roger Lewis, who leads the nation in receiving yards (1476 on 82 catches), also won the Paul Warfield Trophy.
Others on the first-team roster were running back Travis Greene, linebacker Austin Valdez and punter Joseph Davidson. Making the second team were offensive linemen Alex Huettel and Jacob Bennett, wide receiver Gehrig Dieter and linebacker Trenton Greene. The third-team roster included wide receivers Ronnie Moore and Ryan Burbrink.
Travos Greene is the school’s all-time leading rusher. He has 1,219 yards and 14 touchdowns this year. Lewis, Burbrink and Moore each have more than 2,000 career yards in receptions.
On defense, the Falcons have 20 interceptions. This leads the MAC and is No. 5 in the NCAA. Cornerback Alfonso Mack led the squad with six picks.
Bowling Green won its most recent bowl, edging South Alabama 33-28 in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. In what was then known as the GMAC Bowl, the Falcons traveled to Mobile to beat Memphis 52-35 in 2004 before falling to Tulsa 63-7 in 2007.
The two schools have never met in football. They did have one common opponent this year in Western Michigan. Georgia Southern won its meeting 43-17, while Bowling Green prevailed 41-27.
The teams are scheduled to arrive this Saturday. Special events start that night, with the Christmas Experience concert featuring six-time Grammy winner TobyMac at the Mobile Civic Center.
The Mayor’s Luncheon will feature legendary sportscaster Brent Musburger on Tuesday. The streets of downtown will come alive that night for the Carnival-style parade featuring the college marching bands, along with the pep rally and fireworks show along the Mobile River.
The game will kick off Wednesday night at 7 and be broadcast on ESPN. Tickets are $45 for sideline seats and $15 in the end zone. For more information, visit www.GoDaddyBowl.com or call 251-635-0011.