(This is the tenth in a series previewing the Sun Belt Conference as well as non-conference opponents of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.  Today:  Georgia State.  The Cajuns host the Panthers on Saturday, October 4th at Cajun Field.)

Trent Miles smiled at Sun Belt Media Day.  He believes in the system he’s using to get Georgia State to the point where they can compete in the FBS.  It’s the same formula he used at Indiana State.  Recruit hard, organize well, instill discipline and pride and don’t cut corners.

But Miles will be the first to tell you it’s not a quick journey.

Miles took over a Sycamores program in 2008 and went 0-12.  By 2010 he had a winning season and in his final year, 2012, ISU went 7-4.

So far the pattern has held firm.  Georgia State didn’t win a game last year.

The Panthers had some close calls.  Four of the losses were by a touchdown or less.  And, the Panthers stayed competitive in several other games before the lack of quality depth showed up.

Miles has made it clear he’s in it for the long haul.  And, that haul is, in fact, pretty long.

Georgia State went on the fast track to the FBS.  They played only three seasons of football before Miles was hired to replace Bill Curry.  Now, that’s the definition of a fast track.  But if there’s anything the Panthers learned in their first season in the Sun Belt, it’s that they’re behind.  Way behind.  But Miles believes in the plan.  And, he’s convinced the Panthers will take a step forward in 2014.

The Panthers will have a lot of changes on offense.  Ronnie Bell, who started eleven games at quarterback a year ago, will be the backup as highly touted JC transfer Nick Arbuckle takes over.  Arbuckle threw for nearly 7,000 and 73 touchdowns in his two years.  GSU lost leading WR Albert Wilson (71-1177-8) but returns sophomore Robert Davis, who caught 44 balls for 711 yards and four scores.  But after that, there isn’t a lot of experience.  Avery Sweeting and Lynquez Blair combined for just fifteen receptions last season.  Transfer Donovan Harden (Illinois State) will play plenty and is expected to make an impact.  TE Keith Rucker (14-232-1) and Joel Ruiz are the tight ends.

There are a ton of questions at the running back position.  Duvall Smith and Kyler Neal combined for just 27 carries last season.  Watch freshman Kristen Hammon (Dickenson, TX).  He’s going to get a lot of carries.

The offensive line is a mixture of vets and newcomers.  Taylor Evans and Michael Ivory come in from junior college, while A. J. Kaplan and Tim Wynn combined for 22 starts last season.  The Panthers are high on freshman guard Alex Stoehr and expect him to step into a starting role. The offensive line allowed 32 sacks last year.  Miles is hoping the new faces can improve that statistic as well as the -7 turnover margin.

The news is a little better, experience wise, on the defensive side,  as the Panthers have fourteen players on their two-deep that played a year ago.  The two leading tacklers, ILB Joseph Peterson and SS Tarris Batiste return.  Miles will rely on three junior college players (OLB Sheldon Wynn, CB Marcus Caffey and FS Nate Simon, along with Kentucky transfer, CB Bruce Dukes to provide an immediate impact.  Last year’s group had just eleven sacks and six interceptions.  Obviously, those numbers have to get better.

Special teams for the Panthers should be solid as they return both place kicker Wil Lutz and punter Matt Hubbard.  Lutz needs to be more consistent as a field goal kicker but he’s got a solid leg.  Wilson was a great return man for them and he’ll be missed.

Georgia State opens with three in a row at home and none of those teams (Abilene Christian, New Mexico State and Air Force) are powerhouses.  Their other two non conference games are against Washington in week four and Clemson in late November.  Besides NMSU, the Panthers will host Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Texas State.  UL, USA, Troy and App State are the road opponents. (GSU’s new Athletic Director Charlie Cobb was the AD at App last year).  The Panthers do not play ULM or Idaho.

OUTLOOK—Let’s not sugar coat this.  The Panthers are quite a ways away from being a good football team.  The lack of FBS that Miles inherited is underscored by the fact fifteen true freshman played last year and another dozen or so will get on the field this year as well.  Like FIU a decade ago, this school decided to fast track their program to the FBS.  And, just as FIU took that route when they first started their program, there are plenty of growing pains ahead.  It took FIU six years to get to the six-win mark.  Georgia State is hoping it won’t be quite that long.  Miles says the goal for his team this year is “win some games.”  If they can’t get that accomplished in their first three, they could be looking at another winless season.