Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Georgia State Football Preview

Once upon a time there was a collection of collegiate athletic programs called The Sun Belt Conference.  ("Once upon a time" includes "now.")  The Georgia State University Panthers were part of this conference from 1976-1981.  Following the Panthers' departure, Old Dominion was a member of the Sun Belt from 1982-1991, and then joined the CAA the following season.  In 2005 Georgia State joined the CAA along with Northeastern University, securing the Colonial's footprint from Atlanta to New England.

While Northeastern dropped its football program following the 2009 season, Georgia State began football the subsequent season.  The Panthers drew an impressive 30K fans to their opening game against Shorter College in the Georgia Dome, and averaged more than 15K the rest of the season.  In today's post we'll take a look at whether Georgia State can expect to improve on their 6-5 record from a year ago.

Playboy model Amy Leigh Andrews is by far the most impressive product of Georgia State University.  (Photo credited to something called BittenAndBound.Com)

Football History
As mentioned above, the Panthers have only had one season.  Through interacting with their fans on message boards (thank you, World Wide Web!) it sounds like there were too many political road blocks for Georgia State football to materialize before now.  Eventually they got the right mixture of president and athletic director; in the late 2000's football was announced and their first season was 2010.

Their only season was a bit of a roller coaster ride.  After trouncing Shorter in front of 30K fans, the following week the team lost to NAIA's Lambuth University in front of an announced crowd of 12K.  Lambuth University no longer exists as a stand-alone school, and their 2011 rematch was thus cancelled.  But that loss was followed with a gritty OT loss to FCS power Jacksonville State.  They won six of their eleven games as the see-saw season eventually ended with a nationally-televised game against Alabama.

Not many FCS teams have made the cover of ESPN the magazine over the years, let alone a start-up FCS program.  When ESPN gives you that much free press there's no doubt that people pay attention.  The long-term question is, will that attention lead to winning?  Only time will tell.

This is not as cute as Amy Leigh Andrews.  (Photo credited to ESPN the Magazine)

2010 Highlights
The Panthers finished 2010 with a winning record, which in and of itself is a highlight.  With teams like Alabama, Jacksonville State and Old Dominion among their opponents, a winning record is an accomplishment.  Redshirt freshman QB Drew Little threw for more than 2,100 yards with 18 TD's.  Their punter, who's lining up to be the starter at QB for 2011, was cited several times for strong performances by the College Football Performance Awards last season.  Also, did I mention they played Alabama on national television to end their season?  

History with Old Dominion
As 2010 was Georgia State's only season to date, they've had one lone game against ODU: a loss of 34-20.  The Panthers took a 6-0 lead early but saw the Monarchs score 34 unanswered points, with Georgia State scoring two touchdowns in garbage time. 

Led by running back Mario Crawford, the Monarchs rushed for 229 yards against the Panthers in 2010.

2011 Outlook
The 2011 offseason has been so fluid for the Panthers, it's difficult to establish reasonable expectations.  We'll list what has happened and try to figure it out at the end.

Star Jackson, a gifted QB who transferred from Alabama before the 2010 season, left the program in the winter after playing in only four games.  In March it was announced that Drew Little would be suspended the first four games of 2011 for a violation of team rules.  Three others were suspended (one of whom would subsequently leave the team) and another was dismissed from the team. 

Now for some good offseason news - there will be three new BCS transfers on the Panthers' roster this year.  AJ Portee, a defensive end who previously played at UConn, announced in May that he was transferring.  Subsequently Donald Russell and Alex Smith, former Kentucky Wildcat offensive players, officially transferred in July.  Georgia State fans hope these three BCS transfers provide better results than Star Jackson.

And now back to the not-as-good offseason news.  Kelton Hill, the Panthers' leading rusher from 2010 who was expected to start in place of the suspended Little, was arrested and charged with forcible entry in relation to a burglary.  Hill's player bio has been pulled from the Georgia State Athletics web site and he is currently not with the team.  We'll let the court system settle this one. 

The two remaining quarterbacks on the roster are Bo Schlecter, their punter from last season, and Ben McLane, an incoming freshman.  However, Coach Bill Curry announced recently that Little's suspension may be reduced, even though it has nothing to do with the lack of depth at the position.  In related news, I have a skyscraper in Atlanta to sell Georgia State.

How soon will Drew Little be taking snaps as the Panthers' QB?
So what does it all mean?  Hell if I know.  Their defense gave up more than 183 yards per game on the ground last season.  How much improved will they be with Portee's arrival coupled with improvement of their returning players? 

Regardless of how improved the defense can be, how good will the offense be?  Forget that their projected starting QB was their punter last year; for what we know he's a decent athlete who could do well at the position.  How much practice time will Drew Little get with the first team offfense throughout camp and into the season?  Won't rotating reps with the first team between quarterbacks be more disruptive than helpful, especially if we don't know the timetable for Little's return? 

Side note - the Panthers' quandry reminds me of the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.  That team had a defense that rivaled the '85 Bears and the '00 Ravens.  However, they couldn't even make the playoffs because of the quarterback situation.  Randall Cunningham was injured that year and the offense simply didn't score enough, negating superior results from Reggie White and Company.

Unfortunately for Bill Curry, his defense is not the 1991 Eagles.  They should absolutely improve this season simply because they have a full season under their belts, as well as an influx of talent.  I doubt that talent will be enough for them to win more than one game that Little misses - the season-opener against Clark Atlanta University.

CAU is one of three sub-FCS teams Georgia State faces, which I find odd since ODU didn't schedule sub-FCS teams after its first two games of its first season, but you should expect the Panthers to win those games.  Other winnable games include a game against start-up University of Texas - San Antonio, as well as their season finale against Campbell.  All bets are off beyond that - it's not a matter of talent on Georgia State, it's a matter of continuity of the offense.

There is no doubt that Georgia State has some talented players on its roster - five players (including Little) were named to the CFPA Watchlist.  Six players were named to Phil Steele's 2011 Preseason All-Independent Team.  The team won six games last year and other than Little and his four-game suspension, they are returning much of that talent from last year.  But at this time I cannot pick a team with a punter at quarterback to defeat an ODU team that now has four years of scholarship athletes cycled through the defense.  There are more than five weeks before the game is played and a lot can happen, but things are shaping up well for ODU remain undefeated against the Panthers.

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