Georgia Southern football coach Jeff Monken isn't getting caught up in how the Eagles have gone from being 4-4 last October to reaching the semifinals of the playoffs, to being ranked No. 1 for most of this season.
Despite a record of 14-5 since taking over the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision's most successful program in 2010, the second-year coach appears immune to hype and hoopla.
"It's awfully early in the year to make any assessments about what kind of team we've got," he said. "We're still learning and I hope we're still improving."
Saturday, the Southern Conference-leading Eagles (4-0, 3-0) host the No. 23 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (2-3, 0-2), which last season handed Monken one of his five losses, on Oct. 16.
Georgia Southern has gone 11-2 since the Mocs' 35-27 win.
"I think he's shown them that nothing comes easy. You've got to work hard, and they've followed that," GSU athletic director Sam Baker said of Monken.
All-America defensive tackle Brent Russell said Monken tells the players not to look at the polls, "but as a team it trickles down."
Monken's not much interested in statistics, either -- they're "overrated," he said -- even when they show off just how dominant the Eagles have been this season. Here's a sampling of their stunning stats:
* 7.3 yards per play -- no other team in the FCS is averaging more than 6.8.
* 498 yards per game -- that's third-most in the nation and includes 387 yards rushing, which is No. 1.
* 46.5 points per game -- that leads the FCS and includes an average of six touchdowns a game.
* 228 rushing yards -- the meager total is all GSU's defense has allowed this season and opponents are averaging 2.1 yards a carry.
* 14 sacks -- this number may of the greatest concern for the Mocs, who have given up 14 sacks this season.
Monken took over a team that went 5-6 in 2009 and saw coach Chris Hatcher get fired a few hours after the Eagles season-ending win over The Citadel. A lot has changed since then.
"He's certainly got everybody back feeling good about football on campus, and that's important," Baker said.
The roll the Eagles have been on since an Oct. 30 loss to Samford last season left them at 4-4, Baker said, can be traced back to a couple of pivotal plays at home against Appalachian State the following week.
"Everything just started clicking from that point on," he said.
Down 14-0 to the top-ranked Mountaineers, Georgia Southern got lucky when a holding penalty negated an ASU touchdown. Three plays later, Laron Scott intercepted a DeAndre Presley pass in the end zone.
The Eagles went on to win 21-14 in overtime.
"I've said all along, that interception turned our whole season around," Baker said.
Georgia Southern has lost just once since, at Delaware in the semifinals of the 2010 playoffs. The Eagles, winners of six national titles and eight SoCon titles, are back where they've been so often since the program was restored in 1982, at the top.
"We just tried to win each game each week," Monken said. "That's all we're trying to do now. ... If we lose sight of this week, the other goals won't materialize."
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...