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In the FCS Huddle: Monken hoping third time is the charm

7:54 PM, Dec 8, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the many Monkens get together for a family reunion, they're not talking about politics.

They have a pretty good set of checks and balances, however.

In the near future, Georgia Southern football coach Jeff Monken hopes to one- up the family conversations with an FCS national championship.

The Eagles' outstanding coach has led his squad to the national semifinals in each of his first three seasons of guiding the most successful program in FCS history. Considering the Southern Conference powerhouse had slumped to a combined 21-23 in the four seasons prior to Monken's return to Statesboro, Ga., and his quick fix - or is it magic? - is nothing short of amazing.

A record seventh FCS (formerly Division I-AA) national title won't come easy for Georgia Southern. The Eagles next have to go through defending champion North Dakota State in the semifinals next weekend.

A year ago, NDSU outran the Eagles' vaunted triple option while cruising to a 35-7 win in the semifinals, also at the Fargodome.

As the teams prepare to meet again, rest assured some of the other Monkens will be on the horn this week with thoughts on the matchup as Jeff tries to make his third trip to the semifinals the charm.

"I've got a great family," the 45-year-old Illinois native said. "My dad is the fourth of five brothers in his family. There's five boys and a girl in his family of siblings. My grandmother, who's now passed away, she taught full- time until she was 90 years old. And that's hard for people to believe that somebody was still going to work at age 90, much less teaching and being in a classroom. She was an amazing lady. She really, I guess, was the inspiration for everybody else in our family.

"All six of her children went into high school teaching and coaching. My dad and his four brothers were all head high school coaches in the state of Illinois while I was growing up. There are seven of us who are sons of those five brothers who have gone into coaching. We saw what an impact our grandmother made and our fathers. My mom's a teacher as well. Several of those brothers married teachers. And I think we just were very aware of the influence that they had on young people, the opportunities that we had to serve other people and really do something special with the lives we were given.

"Certainly other professions that we could enter into where you make more money, but that wasn't what was important to our family. It was serving people and helping people and giving kids opportunities to have a better life. We saw that, recognized that and I think we all were very attracted to the profession, and that's how it ended up."

The lure of guiding his own program was something Monken couldn't deny even while he served under Paul Johnson on staffs at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.

He bleeds the navy blue and white of GSU, and the administration couldn't bring him back fast enough in 2010. He was first a member of the Eagles' staff as an assistant under Johnson from 1997-2001, and during that time they went a combined 62-10 and won back-to-back national titles in 1999 and 2000.

Of course, successful coaching is all Monken knows.

"You're not going to walk into a Monken house where football is not the topic of discussion. That's pretty much a given," Monken said. "There's some outstanding coaches in my family. I don't include myself in that list. My dad and three of his brothers are in the Illinois state high school coaches Hall of Fame. And my cousin Todd's the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and I think he's just one of the finest football coaches around. I've got a couple cousins who are head high school coaches in Illinois.

"We are always talking football and getting ideas from each other. What a resource for me and all of us."

Georgia Southern will enter the semifinals with an FCS-leading 409 rushing yards per game. Wofford's triple option dented North Dakota State for 262 rushing yards in their quarterfinal on Saturday, but the Bison are allowing only 78.5 yards per game on the ground - second-best in the FCS.

The Eagles likely won't be able to fall behind by two touchdowns in the second half, as they did against Old Dominion in the quarterfinals Saturday before they rallied in the fourth quarter for a 49-35 victory.

They kept believing, though - something Monken instills in them.

Afterward, he said, "I'm just so proud to be a Georgia Southern Eagle."

FCS PLAYOFF ROUNDUP

A recap of the second-round playoff games can be found at .............

OLSON, OLSON AND MORE OLSON

Usually the statistical exploits of offensive players are spotlighted throughout the playoffs, like Old Dominion sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke becoming the first 5,000-yard passer in an FCS season on Saturday.

But North Dakota State linebacker Grant Olson enjoyed one of the defensive performances of the year in the Bison's 14-7 win over Wofford.

Wofford ran 58 plays from scrimmage and the Terriers ran into Olson in half of them. The 6-foot, 223-pound junior collected a school-record 29 tackles - six solos and 23 assists.

NDSU coach Craig Bohl, Olson said, "told us to leave our hearts out there, and that's what we did. Not one guy ever gave up, nobody ever had a look of fear in his eyes. That's just what the Bison do. They've been doing it for countless years; we're just the next group that's doing it."

THEY MEET EARLY

After appearing separately the last two years in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game in Frisco, Texas, Eastern Washington, the 2010 national champion, and Sam Houston State, the 2011 national runner-up, scheduled a home-and-series earlier this year for the 2013 and '14 seasons.

It turns out they will meet a year earlier. Eastern Washington will roll out the red carpet for the Bearkats in the national semifinals next weekend.

The two schools have met once previously. They staged an epic postseason battle at Eastern Washington on Dec. 5, 2004, when Sam Houston State rallied in the fourth quarter for a 35-34 win.

STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING

Rising: Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell said it was a business trip, and the Bearkats sure knew how to take care of business with their 34-16 win at third-seeded Montana State. Their team speed picked apart the Bobcats for the second straight year in the FCS quarterfinals. The Southland Conference squad's reward for the impressive win? A visit to equally chilly Eastern Washington.

Falling: Meltdowns brought disappointing ends to a handful of seasons this weekend. Jackson State allowed a 95-yard touchdown pass to Arkansas-Pine Bluff with two minutes left and went on to lose in overtime in the SWAC Championship Game. Montana State fell by 18 points at home to Sam Houston State in the FCS quarterfinals, bringing their combined total of playoff losses the last three seasons to 79 points. Old Dominion let a 35-21 lead after three quarters evaporate at home in a 28-point Georgia Southern onslaught in the fourth quarter of their FCS quarterfinal.

FCS HONORS

The Sports Network FCS All-America Team will be announced on Monday, Dec. 10.

The four major FCS awards - the Walter Payton (FCS outstanding player), the Buck Buchanan (FCS outstanding defensive player), the Jerry Rice (FCS freshman of the year) and the Eddie Robinson (FCS coach of the year) - will be announced on Monday, Dec. 17.

THE PICKS

This Weekend's Record: 3-2 (.600)

Season Record: 578-186 (.757)

Dec. 14-15

FCS Semifinals

X-Predicted Winner

X-Sam Houston State (10-3) at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (11-2). Have to wonder if the back-to-back weeks of travel to Big Sky country will catch up to the Bearkats.

No. 5 seed Georgia Southern (10-3) at X-No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-1). Until an offense figures out the Bison's stifling defense, you can't pick against them.

The Sports Network

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