Panthers Have Nowhere to Go but Up
(This is the tenth in a series of 14 stories previewing the Sun Belt Conference and the 2015 opponents of the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Today: Georgia State. Tha Cajuns and Panthers meet in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, November 7th.)
Georgia State only began playing football of any kind back in 2010. And here's your Jeopardy answer:
It' s the number of FBS teams Georgia State has beaten since starting their football program.
The correct question: What is none.
Georgia State does have a win over South Alabama but that's before the Jaguars joined the FBS. In the last three years, the Panthers are 2-33 with their wins at Rhode Island in 2013 and an opening season win against Abilene Christian last year. There were signs of an improving program with three of last year's losses by a field goal or less. But they also lost by 42 to Arkansas State, 38 to Georgia Southern and 44 to Appalachian State. This is going to be critical year for head coach Trent Miles.
OFFENSE: NIck Arbuckle was the SBC leader in yards per game a season ago with 3,283 yards and he's got more than capable receivers returning in Donovan Harden (66-885-7) and Robert Davis (50-732-2) and TE Joel Ruiz (39-478-3). The running game was pretty anemic a season ago but has some experience. The offensive line has three starters back hoping to improve the running game as well as protecting Arbuckle, who was sacked 31 times last year. If Georgia State is going to get better on offense, however, the Panthers' quarterback has to improve on his 17 interceptions from a year ago.
DEFENSE: Georgia State wasn't very good last year, allowing 497 yards per game. They only had twelve quarterback sacks and their 43.3 points per game was last in the FBS. But there's cause for some optimism here as nine starters return including all league linebacker Joseph Peterson.and seven of their top ten tacklers overall. This unit didn't do a very good job forcing turnovers last year and that has to change if they are going to be appreciably better in 2015.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutz returns as their placekicker and punter. This will be his fourth year as the starting placekicker and second as the punter. Harden averaged 11 yards in punt returns last season. Georgia State's kickoff return team was poor and must improve to take some pressure off the offense.
SCHEDULE: Georgia State will have a good chance to notch their first ever FBS win in the season opener at home against Charlotte on Friday. It will be the 49ers FBS debut. Their other non league games are at Oregon and Ball State with a home game against FCS Liberty. Like last year, GSU gets New Mexico State in week two with a chance to get their first ever conference win. They get Appalachian State, Louisiana, South Alabama and Troy at home. They do not play Idaho or ULM.
OUTLOOK: The statistic to remember is minus 22. That was Georgia State's turnover margin a year ago. They did not have a positive turnover margin in a single game last year and were negative in ten of their twelve games. This team, with its weapons on offense and a more experienced defense, should be better in 2015. But how better will be all about that turnover margin. If Arbuckle consistently throws the ball to the right colored jersey, this team will crack the win column three or four times. But if that turnover margin continues to be abysmal, the Panthers will continue to be abysmal as well.
(Information from Phil Steele's College Football Preview contributed to this report.)