ATHENS, Ga. — As the Ole Miss football team was preparing to make the short trip to Memphis last month, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze was well aware of the situation.
"Do we have more to lose than we do to gain? Absolutely," Freeze said.
The upstart Tigers of the American Athletic Conference pulled off a 37-24 upset in the Liberty Bowl, knocking Ole Miss from the national elite. Now it's Georgia coach Mark Richt facing a similar situation, as his 7-3 Bulldogs await a visit from Georgia Southern, a 7-2 team from the Sun Belt Conference.
Georgia and Georgia Southern have met five times previously with the Bulldogs winning all five by at least 20 points, but this is the first meeting in which the Eagles are on equal footing as a Bowl Subdivision program with 85 scholarship players.
"I would prefer not to play them because they're that good," Richt said, "but I think it's good that we do play them when you look at the big picture. They're a very dangerous team, and they're fast. They're athletic. They execute well, and how they play the game is very impressive.
"It will challenge our guys, I promise you."
The Bulldogs and Eagles first met in 1992 and collided again in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Georgia Southern collected its first win over a Southeastern Conference foe two years ago by stunning injury-ravaged Florida 26-20 in overtime.facebook
Quarterback Greyson Lambert (Jesup), receiver Malcolm Mitchell (Valdosta), tight end Jay Rome (Valdosta), defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (Albany) and cornerback Malkom Parrish (Quitman) are among Georgia's more prominent players from south Georgia, and they know what this game means to the Eagles.
"They would love to knock us off, but it's a game, and every game is an important game," Rome said. "They're definitely a really good football team, whether people know it or not. They're going to come in here not scared, and they're going to come in here and play really well."
Georgia Southern leads the nation in rushing with its triple-option offense, averaging 378.9 yards a game. Eagles junior running back Matt Breida, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, heads the attack with 1,242 yards through nine games and an average of 8.9 yards per rush.
The Eagles rank second nationally in time of possession, averaging 34 minutes and eight seconds a game.
Georgia Southern suspended its football program during World War II but revived it in the early 1980s and had instant success at the Championship Subdivision level, known then as I-AA. The Eagles won a whopping six I-AA national championships — 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999 and 2000 — before their recent transition to the Bowl Subdivision.
Last season, which was their first as an FBS member, the Eagles went 9-3 and won the Sun Belt with an 8-0 league mark.
"They are definitely a team that is used to winning, and it is going to be a great challenge for us," Richt said. "They run the ball as well as anybody in America, and it's going to take all we have to be disciplined and get guys on the ground and not give up big plays in the passing game, because there will be a lot of man coverage.
"I don't know what the fan base thinks about this game, but I can promise you we'll get tested in this game as much as any."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.