Depending on who you ask, Georgia Southern is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation.
The Football Championship Subdivision coaches have the Eagles (7-1, 6-1 Southern Conference) at the top, and the media, in the Sports Network Top 25 poll, has GSU at No. 2, behind defending national champion North Dakota State.
The Eagles face No. 15 Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2) Saturday at 2 p.m., so it stands to reason that one of the two would be the nation’s top-ranked FCS team.
In 2010, ASU was No. 1 when the two teams met, and in 2011, GSU held the ranking.
In each case, the home team won, and the No. 1 team lost.
Arguably the SoCon’s best rivalry, ASU holds a 14-12-1 advantage in the all-time series. The Mountaineers are the only team in the league with a winning record against the Eagles. So, all the No. 1 talk may be irrelevant.
“It’s a great rivalry regardless of that,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “It’s two great programs. Appalachian State has a great athletic program. They’ve been successful, they do it the right way with class and organization, and (head coach) Jerry Moore is so respected in this profession.”
Georgia Southern senior running back Darreion Robinson, who is on pace for his most productive season with 270 yards and three touchdowns, has faced the Mountaineers three times. Two of his 2012 scores came in last Saturday’s triple-overtime, 39-31 win at Chattanooga.
“Even when I came out of high school, this was the first game the coaches that recruited me talked about — Georgia Southern and App State,” Robinson said. “It’s been a
rival since before I was a freshman, and we all know how big this game is.”
Still in the mix for a SoCon championship, the Mountaineers certainly won’t be thinking about where the polls have the Eagles on Saturday.
“I don’t think they care if we’re number one or number 12 or whatever,” Monken said, “they still want to beat us.”
All eyes on App
Georgia Southern will clinch an outright SoCon title and the league’s automatic, FCS playoff bid Saturday with a win.
If Appalachian State knocks off the Eagles, it opens the door for ASU, Wofford and Chattanooga to potentially claim a share of the championship.
The Eagles aren’t worried about what anybody else is doing.
“We just know that our goals are still in front of us,” Robinson said, “and one of those is a Southern Conference championship.
The Eagles were without their leading rusher, fullback Dominique Swope, Saturday in Chattanooga.
He is still questionable for the ASU game with an undisclosed injury.
“We’re not sure if he’s going to be ready for Saturday,” Monken said on Monday after practice, which Swope attended but avoided contact. “We sure hope he is. We’re going to take it day by day.”
The Eagles were also without Robert Brown, who is recovering from a concussion. He was the team’s leading rusher as a fullback in 2010.
“Those are our two 1,000-yard rushers over the last two years and we don’t have them,” said Monken.
In the mix
Sophomore Ezayi Youyoute started the season as GSU’s No. 1 quarterback, but became junior Jerick Mckinnon’s backup on Sept. 29, against Samford.
During the past two weeks, Youyoute has taken significant snaps, leading the last drive of the first half against Furman and taking the field throughout the game with McKinnon still on the field as a running back against Chattanooga.
He continues to prepare as if he’s going to be taking all the snaps.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Youyoute said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally and physically to be ready for every game. Chattanooga did a great job on defense — on offense and defense. They play tough and physical. Jerick did great, we kept fighting until the end, and that was the difference in the game.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.