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Tuesday May 26th, 2015 5:55AM

Eagles hope to leave Southern Conference on perfect finale

By The Associated Press
STATESBORO -- Georgia Southern remains the team to beat in the Southern Conference as it begins its transition to the Sun Belt and FBS status.

That leaves the Eagles with a goal of a perfect 2013 regular season, especially in Southern Conference games. Georgia Southern isn't eligible for the Southern Conference title or Football Championship Subdivision playoffs this season because it will play with more than maximum 63 scholarships allowed by FCS standards.

Coach Jeff Monken says he regrets his team is left somewhat in limbo during its transition. He says no one can deny Georgia Southern is the top Southern Conference team if it goes 8-0 in its last run through the conference.

Southern Conference coaches and media picked Georgia Southern to win the league.

"It would be hard for anyone to argue we aren't Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0, even though we're not eligible for the postseason," Monken said.

The Eagles finished 10-4 overall and 6-2 to win the Southern Conference last year. Georgia Southern lost to North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals.

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Here are five things to watch as keys to Georgia Southern's season:

1. RETAIN FOCUS: The Eagles will play a Sun Belt schedule in 2014 but won't be eligible for a bowl until 2015. During the transition years, it becomes important for Georgia Southern to shoot for regular-season goals instead of a postseason trophy.

2. GROWING PAINS: Monken said Georgia Southern must average 76.2 scholarships in 2013 and 2014. Monken says he doesn't expect many changes in recruiting and says he and his staff will still go after many of the same players.

3. RUN, RUN, RUN: Georgia Southern wins on the ground with its triple-option attack. It led the nation with its average of 399.4 yards rushing in 2012 and plans more of the same this year.

4. MCKINNON THE LEADER: Monken says quarterback Jerick McKinnon is the perfect example of a player he'd take on the FCS or FBS level. McKinnon had 1,817 yards rushing with 20 touchdowns in 2012 in the run-first offense. Running back Dominique Swope added 1,251 yards rushing last year.

5. START STRONG: Georgia Southern opens with home games against Savannah State and St. Francis and will need a strong start to gain momentum for a tough road game at Wofford. The Eagles play back-to-back games against The Citadel and Appalachian State in October, teams that beat Georgia Southern last year.
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