The consensus seemed almost unanimous last month at the Sun Belt Football Media Day in New Orleans — whoever has a quarterback and plays defense will win the Sun Belt.
“You better be good at those,” a member of the media told me.
The coaches and players all agreed.
It makes sense.
Everybody in the Sun Belt scores. Everybody. So if you can limit the damage on the scoreboard, you’ll have a shot.
Then there’s the matter of scoring more than the other team. It’s no secret that the teams with the best quarterbacks win. Unless you’re Alabama and you can just steamroll everybody, you’d better have a Jameis Winston, or a Cam Newton, a Tim Tebow — you get the idea. Quarterbacks make everything go in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Georgia Southern will be no exception.
The running backs are untested and unproven, and while they’ll gain some yards — Matt Brieda, LA Ramsby and Ean Days all have their strengths — scoring points will come down to quarterback play.
If the Eagles are going to take advantage of a seasoned offensive line, the quarterback had better be able to deliver the ball accurately and pick up plenty of years on the ground.
It’s Kevin Ellison’s job to lose, and it should be. He was the quarterback when the injury dust cleared last season, and even he played through injuries. He’s well-rounded. He looked good throwing the ball before his shoulder injury and he ran the offense with composure — no small feat for a freshman in “The Swamp,” especially.
Favian Upshaw is a wild card. His delivery seems slower than Ellison’s, and there often isn’t as much zip on the ball. But, man, that fella can run. At the very least, you’d feel pretty good about having him in a backup role as a guy who can go get you some first downs.
Ezayi Youyoute may even be a wilder card. He has had quite a roller coaster of a GSU career.
Youyoute redshirted in 2010, played backup to Jaybo Shaw and Jerick McKinnon in 2011, and finally earned the starting job in 2012. Seven fumbles and three games later, however, McKinnon took over the job.
Ever since then, Youyoute has battled injury and bounced around from wide receiver to running back, and ultimately back to quarterback this past summer.
At times throughout his career, he’s looked brilliant as a passer and a runner.
I’d be shocked if there hasn’t been a lot of discussion in the coaches’ offices for the last couple months regarding what to do about the QB situation — though it could be a good problem to have. At the very least, they’re pushing each other to get better.
Defensively, the only real question mark for the Eagles has been the defensive line. The linebackers, safeties and corners have plenty of talent to go around, so if the D-line shakes out, the Eagles could find themselves in pretty good shape regardless of the level of competition.
But there aren’t nearly as many starts on the D-line as there are at every other position, so until they get some action under their belt, they’ll be a question mark. And an FBS quarterback worth his salt is going to pick you apart if you give him enough time.
So there’s the rub for the Eagles.
Like everybody else in the Sun Belt, Georgia Southern’s successes and failures will rest heavily on the shoulders of the QB and, in the Eagles’ case, the defensive line.