STATESBORO, Georgia — Georgia Southern's 2014 season will be anything but business as usual.
The Eagles have left the relative certainty as annual Southern Conference contenders for a move to FBS and a new life in the Sun Belt Conference.
Willie Fritz has replaced Jeff Monken as coach. Monken, who finished a 7-4 season last year with a stunning win at Florida, moved to Army after leading Georgia Southern to three straight NCAA semifinals.
Fritz left Sam Houston State, where he guided the Bearkats to consecutive FCS championship game appearances in 2011-12, to help Georgia Southern transition its spread option attack to the FBS.
Here the five things to watch during Georgia Southern's season:
ON THE HORIZON: The Eagles should have a good gauge on their level of competition by the end of next month. They open the season Aug. 30 at North Carolina State, host Savannah State the next week, visit Georgia Tech on Sept. 13 and make their Sun Belt debut Sept. 20 at South Alabama.
CHAMPIONSHIP PEDIGREE: Georgia Southern won six Division I-AA national titles and won or shared 10 Southern Conference championships from 1992-2013, but Appalachian State, the Eagles' longtime Southern Conference nemesis, has moved to the Sun Belt, too. In the Sun Belt preseason coaches' poll, Georgia Southern was picked to finish eighth behind Appalachian State. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Troy and Texas State were ranked first through sixth.
SPREAD IT OUT: Kevin Ellison returns as quarterback of the spread option attack after finishing with 886 yards rushing, 759 passing and helping account for 10 touchdowns. With the departure of Jerick McKinnon as feature playmaker, Fritz has indicated that the Eagles might decide to keep Ellison fresh for the long season by occasionally subbing in No. 2 QB Fabian Upshaw. Fritz emphasized, though, that Ellison is the starter. "We definitely want to have an opportunity to play them both," Fritz told reporters last weekend.
KNOCK 'EM DOWN: Linebacker Edwin Jackson returns as the leading tackler for a defense that had only 11 sacks last season. Jack Curtis, on the Eagles' staff since 2011, oversees the secondary and was promoted to defensive coordinator under Fritz.
BIGGER FOUNDATION: Georgia Southern has expanded Paulson Stadium to seat 25,000 and the school has a new football operations building that completed construction in this summer.