The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 126 Georgia State.
Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2014:
If there was one bright spot in an otherwise brutal transition to the FBS level, it’s the production Georgia State got out of quarterback Ronnie Bell. The transfer from Ohio threw for 2,573 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. But just because Bell has experience doesn’t mean he’ll be under center for the Panthers’ opener. In hopes of increasing competition across the board and jolting an offense that averaged a Sun Belt-worst 18.8 points per game, coach Trent Miles brought in three-star recruit Nick Arbuckle, who threw for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns at Pierce (Calif.) College, and Emiere Scaife, who has good size and arm strength for a true freshman.
Georgia State comes in with plenty of question marks after losing six offensive linemen to graduation as well as productive receiver Albert Wilson, who accounted for nearly 1,200 yards. Still, identifying a quarterback will be the No. 1 priority for an offense that converted a league-worst 33 percent of its third downs and gave up 32 sacks.
Besides offensive line, where the Panthers signed three junior college players in hopes of a quick makeover, the biggest concern will be depth at wide receiver, where they had just three scholarship players go through spring practice. Miles hopes Michael Harrison, a 5'7" running back/slot receiver who accounted for 1,536 yards last season in junior college, can provide some playmaking pop.
Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2014:
Lack of size and strength was noticeable on the defensive side of the ball last season, and particularly up front, where the Panthers allowed a league-worst 221.2 rushing yards per game. That wasn’t a surprise, however, given that the Panthers’ most talented players were true freshmen. A full offseason in the weight room has done wonders for sophomore defensive linemen Shawayne Lawrence and Tevin Jones, who Miles expects to provide a foundation for future success in the trenches.
Sophomore Mackendy Cheridor and junior Joseph Peterson, who was honorable mention All-Sun Belt after a 103-tackle season, bring plenty of starting experience to the linebacking corps. The question mark will be in the secondary, where Georgia State lost eight defensive backs and will try to fill in gaps with junior college talent — cornerback Marcus Caffey was highly-rated coming out of Iowa Western — and by moving junior Tarris Batiste to safety after recording 77 tackles at linebacker last season.
Regardless of who plays in the secondary, generating more turnovers will be crucial for a unit that snagged just six total interceptions, and only four by defensive backs, in 346 passing attempts last season.
Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2014:
Former walk-on punter Matt Hubbard had no problem making the transition from FCS last season, earning third team All-Sun Belt honors after averaging 42.0 yards on 78 punts. Placekicker Wil Lutz also returns after making 8-of-12 field goals last season, including a 53-yarder against Alabama.
Entering its fifth year of existence overall and second as an FBS program, Georgia State has experienced very little success, winning just once over the past two seasons. As players who were recruited for the FCS level cycle out of the program — including 27 seniors last season — the opportunity exists for Miles to upgrade the roster’s size, speed and depth. Still, the Panthers are probably two recruiting classes away from getting their numbers up to par, and in the meantime will have to rely heavily on underclassmen for production.
The Panthers were competitive at times in 2013, losing three times in conference play by a touchdown or less, but they’re still closer to the beginning than the end of a long rebuilding process.