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#126 Georgia State Panthers





HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, 1-23 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Jagodzinski | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

Patience will need to be in ample supply for Georgia State. The Panthers have gone 2-33 during the last three seasons as the startup program has moved into the FBS ranks. Trent Miles rebuilt Indiana State but his lone win in two seasons at Georgia State is by one point over Abilene Christian to start last season. With 16 returning starters, including 10 on offense, and a growing roster of scholarship players, Miles will look to continue building the foundation.

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Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2015 

There weren’t many things Georgia State did reliably well last season except pass the ball, which allowed the Panthers to be competitive more often than they had been during a winless 2013. The good news is most of the key pieces that made Georgia State’s passing game respectable return with what should be a deeper and more talented supporting cast. 

But the Panthers still have a long way to go, and it’s unclear how much a bevy of new faces up front and at tailback will help a rushing attack that averaged just 3.0 yards per carry and 96.3 yards per game, which ranked next-to-last in the Sun Belt. “We still have some holes we can’t fill for a couple years, but we’re a lot closer,” coach Trent Miles says. 

Optimism starts with 6'1" senior quarterback Nick Arbuckle, a former junior college transfer who completed 60.4 percent of his passes and threw for 3,283 yards with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. “He’s got good touch, and he usually knows where to go with it,” Miles says. “He tried to force some plays, which happens when you’re struggling as a team. But he’s relaxed a lot more, and I’m looking for a big year.” 

The Panthers should benefit from the return of tailback Kyler Neal, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in four games before getting injured, and most of a receiving corps led by Donovan Harden, who had 60 catches for 885 yards last season. “He’s a stud,” Miles says. “That’s one of our deeper positions.”

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2015 

Miles has a pretty simple assessment of Georgia State’s defense in 2014: “Horrible.” The Panthers allowed 303.4 rushing yards per game, had just 12 sacks, gave up 51.9 percent of third-down conversions and forced a paltry eight turnovers. Once again, though, there’s no quick fix for a roster that was bereft of talent, depth and size when Miles took over aside from recruiting and internal growth, particularly in the weight room. 

With some new personnel, there could be big changes on the defensive line. Julien Laurent, a 6'4", 325-pound Canadian, is poised to make a big impact after a year at New Mexico Military Institute. Georgia State is hoping a mix of junior college transfers, UAB transfer Alonzo McGee and players such as linebackers Michael Shaw and Niemus Bryant will supplement a couple solid returning pieces on the front seven. Linebacker Joe Peterson is a four-year starter and an All-Sun Belt selection, and sophomore Trey Payne had 88 tackles last season. 

Miles says the Panthers are “deeper than we’ve ever been” in the secondary with the addition of junior college safety Cloves Campbell and UAB transfer Bobby Baker, who played well for the Blazers before suffering an early season injury. Even if the Panthers’ front-line personnel is better, injuries and depth are going to be a major concern. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2015 

Senior Wil Lutz didn’t get many scoring opportunities last season but made the most of them. He hit on 7-of-8 field goals and is 15-of-16 in his career inside of 40 yards. He will also handle punting duties after splitting time there last season. Miles hopes for more big plays out of the return game from Harden and new slot receiver Kameron Myers, who can really fly.

Final Analysis

This program has had a rough transition from FCS to FBS, and it’s going to take more time to turn it around. Still, the Panthers will have around 80 scholarship players this year, up from the mid-60s last season, and return all but four contributors. Though there are still major questions about physicality and size on both lines of scrimmage, the skill level is improving at nearly every position, which should be enough to see incremental strides in Miles’ third season.  


#124 New Mexico State Aggies





HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Martin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Zane Vance

Optimism is not usually plentiful for New Mexico State, but that may be the case for the Aggies this season. New Mexico State improved on offense late last year, scoring 35 points in the finale at Arkansas State. If the defense with 10 returning starters can keep up, the Aggies might — might — be able to double last season’s win total (two).

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Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2015

The Aggies moved to an up-tempo, quick-passing game under offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon last season, and while it wasn’t a consistent success, it was an identity — something the program has sorely lacked in recent years. 

Brandon is gone (he replaced Bob Stitt as head coach at Colorado School of Mines), but New Mexico State returns the majority of an offensive roster that began to figure it out last year. 

Sophomore running back Larry Rose III amassed 1,102 yards (on a healthy 5.9-yard average) in his rookie season and will be the primary rusher in the single-back offense. Junior Teldrick Morgan will be the top option in the passing game and is looking to build on a breakout season. 

But the effort to find the man to take the helm of the offense is a battle that will likely play out deep into fall camp. Tyler Rogers held the position last season and at times looked like he was the man for the job. But Rogers’ 23-interception season kept the competition open, and South Florida product Nick Jeanty closed the gap in spring camp. Sophomore Andrew Allen is also part of the fray.  

Whichever quarterback wins the job will be playing behind one of the better offensive lines in the Sun Belt. The Aggies lose linchpin center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke to graduation, but guard Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and tackle Houston Clemente are a tremendous left side on a unit that allowed only 10 sacks last season.  

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2015

While the NMSU offense found a system that worked in 2014, the Aggie defense will enter 2015 in flux. The ’14 unit was young and small, and subsequently one of the worst defenses in the country. The Aggies had the nation’s sixth-best passing defense in terms of yards per game last year, but that’s because teams didn’t need to throw it against NMSU. The Aggies were dead last nationally in rushing yards against, allowing 309.9 per game. 

Size on the front seven is a major issue, as starting defensive linemen Kalei Auelua and Stody Bradley both played last year at about 240 pounds. The Aggies return only three sacks from 2014.

The vast majority of the defensive roster returns in 2015, and new coordinator Zane Vance is hoping that a year in the weight room will spark an improvement on the field. 

Despite the struggles of the Aggies defense in 2014, there were positives to be gleaned from the secondary and linebacking corps. Free safety Kawe Johnson was a diminutive wrecking ball, and linebacker Rodney Butler’s 7.5 tackles for a loss were impressive, considering how easy it was for opponents to get out of their own backfield. 

Scheme will play a major factor in the Aggies’ effort to turn around their defense. Vance will use more zone blitzes in an effort to mask the Aggies’ lack of size with deception and frenetic play.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2015 

The Aggies’ special teams last year were terrible. Morgan is a threat on returns, but the lack of team depth made itself known on special teams, as the blocking was never there to break a return for a touchdown. Another year of experience for special teamers could bring improvement — and there’s nowhere to go but up. 

Final Analysis

The Aggies started to figure it out last year, and if the offense continues to progress, they’ll be able to stay competitive in conference games. If they are to be successful, the defense will need to make a big leap — a scheme change might facilitate that improvement. Games against UTEP and New Mexico will be measuring sticks for the program and the progress it’s made.