Thomas: Defending nat'l champion Blazers snubbed by GSC

Shane Thomas | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta State wide receiver Kenny Benjamin (4) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Rogan Wells during the NCAA Division II National Championship game against Ferris State on Dec. 15, 2018 in McKinney, Texas. The Blazers defeated the Bulldogs 49-47.

Whenever a team wins a championship, the first question heading into next season is, "Can they do it again?"

The Valdosta State Blazers football team posted its first undefeated season in school history (14-0), capping the historic mark with a 49-47 win against Ferris State in the NCAA Division II National Championship game on Dec. 15, 2018.

The Blazers averaged a nation-best 52 points per game and quarterback Rogan Wells finished runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II Heisman Trophy equivalent.

Heading into the 2019 season, the Blazers are the No. 1 team in the nation and projected to finish first in the Gulf South Conference.

The GSC announced its GSC Game of the Week designations on Aug. 6 and here is where I begin to scratch my head.

VSU will play two games on ESPN this season –– Sept. 28 at Shorter on ESPN+ and Nov. 16 against rival West Georgia in Carrolton on ESPN3.

That's all well and good, right? Not exactly.

Shorter finished with an 0-11 winless campaign in 2018, including a 52-0 loss at VSU. The Blazers defeated West Georgia 47-31 last season. If anything, the Blazers deserve to, at the very least, have home games in the GSC Game of the Week slate. Where is the love?

Conference foes West Georgia and West Alabama are both slated to play three games on ESPN next season, while West Florida, Delta State, Florida Tech, Shorter, North Greenville and Mississippi College will also play two games.

The Blazers return a large portion of their national championship team, excluding former head coach Kerwin Bell and much of the 2018 coaching staff.

Enter new head coach Gary Goff, who comes over from Tiffin University where he spent the last eight seasons. Goff, a former receiver under coach Hal Mumme at VSU, returns to his alma mater with the same goal Bell arrived with three years ago –– winning a championship.

Goff plans to implement the same "Air Raid" offense Mumme pioneered in the 1990s and several of his former assistants –– namely Mike Leach –– have seen success with over the past 20-plus years.

Of course, none of this will matter if the Blazers manage to repeat as champions. But considering that a defending champion and projected preseason No. 1 doesn't get featured predominantly by its own conference is laughable.

Whenever a team wins a championship, it often gets paraded across television screens and streamed on millions of laptops the world over –– unless it just so happens that the reigning champions are gutted by transfers, graduations, coaching departures and off-field turmoil.

True, the Blazers are bringing in an almost entirely new staff with Goff at the helm and some key seniors graduated and will likely make NFL rosters. But perhaps the message the GSC is sending is that maybe the Blazers shouldn't be the belle of the ball.

Undefeated seasons aren't common. Averaging 52 points per game isn't common. Having the bulk of a championship roster in college returning, including arguably the top quarterback in Division II, with a window for another title or two in the next three seasons isn't common.

The Blazers have all the ingredients to do the uncommon again.

Surely, following up an undefeated season and a national title is no easy task. In reality, the only way to go from there is down, but the Blazers deserve the proper respect as champions and in this instance, the GSC missed that mark.

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