Georgia Southern (0-0) at NC State (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 30, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583) -- Raleigh, North Carolina. Television: ACC Network, ESPN3.com. Home Record: GSU 0-0, NC State 0-0. Away Record: GSU 0-0, NC State 0-0. Neutral Record: GSU 0-0, NC State 0-0. Conference Record: GSU 0-0, NC State 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: In their first official game as a member of the FBS, the Georgia Southern Eagles will travel to Carter-Finley Stadium to take on the NC State Wolfpack in the 2014 season opener on Saturday afternoon.
Georgia Southern had been one of the most consistent teams in the FCS heading into last season, collecting 31 wins from 2010-12 with three straight trips to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, but the program took a slight step backwards in 2013 by finishing 7-4 (4-4 in the Southern Conference). As the Eagles relocated to the FBS' Sun Belt Conference this season (along with Appalachian State), they will say goodbye to Jeff Monken, who is now the head coach at Army, and welcome former Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz aboard for the program's next chapter.
NC State's first season under head coach Dave Doeren in 2013 was a major disappointment. After coming out strong with wins in its first two games, the squad faltered down the stretch with losses in nine of its final 10 games to wrap up 3-9 overall and a winless 0-8 in ACC play. It marked the first time the Wolfpack failed to qualify for a bowl game since 2009.
This marks the first-ever meeting between the programs.
The Eagles impressed offensively a season ago by scoring 33.5 ppg, and as a triple-option squad, the majority of their 451.5 ypg came on the ground (360.4 ypg).
Of the seven returning starters, quarterback Kevin Ellison is the most valuable asset back for the offense. While his passing numbers were low (41- of-79, 759 yards, two TDs, three INTs), he orchestrated the option attack well and finished the year with 886 rushing yards and eight scores.
With Jerick McKinnon (1,050 yards, 12 TDs) gone, the team will have to find a new leading rusher in 2014. Irving Huggins (224 yards, four TDs), Tray Butler (251 yards) and Nardo Govan (245 yards, two TDs) will all get an opportunity to run behind a veteran offensive line that returns four starters.
Starting receivers B.J. Johnson and Zach Walker are back, but the two combined for just 19 receptions on the run-first team and are utilized mostly as blockers on the outside.
Georgia Southern's defense was solid, if unspectacular, in the lower rung of college football last season, allowing 23.2 ppg while generating just 13 takeaways, but it'll benefit from returning more than half its starters on that side of the ball.
Edwin Jackson anchors the unit from the middle linebacker position and led the team in tackles a season ago (92), although he is the only starting linebacker returning.
Jonathan Battle (34 tackles, 3.0 TFL) was solid at defensive tackle, but the team had just 11 sacks in 11 games.
Three returning starters occupy the secondary. Safeties Deion Stanley (30 tackles, three INTs) and Matt Dobson (44 tackles, two INTs) were crucial in the turnover battle, and cornerback Tay Hicklin (27 tackles) was solid as well.
NC State had instability at the quarterback position last season and the result was a rather poor offensive season, as it averaged just 22.8 ppg and 403.5 ypg, but with seven returning starters on that side of the ball and a new signal caller better suited for Doeren's system, an improvement is expected in 2014.
Jacoby Brisset transferred from Florida after losing the quarterback competition to Jeff Driskel in 2012 and will regain his eligibility this season. The 6-foot-4 junior impressed in limited reps in his final season with the Gators (23-of-35, 249 yards, TD).
Shadrach Thornton returns after a strong sophomore season in which he rushed for 768 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers should improve this time around running behind a veteran offensive line that welcomes back four starters.
Bryan Underwood leads a group of inexperienced pass catchers. He played just seven games in 2013 but was second on the team in receptions (32) for 382 yards and a score.
The Wolfpack's defense was often put in compromising positions by their lackluster offense, which resulted in a poor scoring defense (30.2 ypg), but their respectable total defense (399.4 ypg) and the return of seven starters give the unit some hope moving forward.
The strength of the defense comes up front with three of four starters back along the defensive line, anchored by Art Norman (9.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Thomas Teal (10.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks).
Leading the linebacking corps is Brandon Pittman, who racked up 62 tackles and 7.0 TFL. In the secondary, Hakim Jones (61 tackles, two INTs) and Jack Tocho (two INTs) bring valuable experience.
Even though NC State was an ACC bottom feeder last season, it appears poised for at least a little bit of a bounce back campaign in year two under Doeren, and at home against a Georgia Southern squad getting accustomed to life at the highest level, expect the Wolfpack to take care of business.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: NC State 34, Georgia Southern 13
08/29 15:18:38 ET