The Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. is one of two bowls making its debut in college football’s 41-game postseason slate, and the inaugural matchup features two teams – Georgia State and San Jose State – hungry to end the season on a high note. The Panthers made a surprising run to bowl eligibility with four consecutive wins to close the regular season, while the Spartans at 5-7 were able to reach the postseason thanks to their high APR.
Georgia State’s bowl appearance and a 6-6 record in 2015 cap a quick rise to the FBS ranks for this program. The Panthers transitioned to the FBS level in 2013 and finished 1-23 in their first two years. However, coach Trent Miles inherited a massive rebuilding project and has steadily upgraded the team’s depth and overall talent level, allowing Georgia State to finish 6-6 and earn the program’s first bowl trip. San Jose State is making its first postseason trip since 2012, and this game is an opportunity for coach Ron Caragher to build momentum for a critical 2016 season. The Spartans are 14-22 under Caragher’s direction but improved from 3-9 in 2014 to 5-7 in 2015. Caragher’s team was just a few plays away from a winning record, as San Jose State lost by one to BYU and by three at Nevada.
This is the first meeting between Georgia State and San Jose State.
Cure Bowl: Georgia State (6-6) vs. San Jose State (5-7)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Jose State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia State’s Passing Attack
Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle was underrated on the national scene, but the senior earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors and was named the conference’s student-athlete of the year. In 12 games this season, Arbuckle threw for 4,160 yards and 26 touchdowns and tossed only 11 picks on 457 pass attempts. The senior also has plenty of help at his disposal. Four players caught more than 35 passes, including freshman standout Penny Hart (70 catches), Robert Davis (60) and tight end Keith Rucker (13.4 ypc). The Panthers average only 103.1 rushing yards per game but showed better balance in the second half of the season. Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski won’t be afraid to put the ball in the air, as Arbuckle has averaged 38 pass attempts a game this season and has eclipsed 300 or more yards in seven consecutive games. San Jose State’s secondary was projected to be one of the better groups in the Mountain West this season and ranked 38th nationally in pass efficiency defense. No opponent threw for more than 293 yards against this defense, with Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace III anchoring the corner positions. Will Arbuckle pick up where he left off at the end of the regular season? San Jose State isn’t adept at getting to the quarterback (13 sacks in 2015), so there’s a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks to hold their coverage against a deadly passing attack.
2. San Jose State RB Tyler Ervin
Ervin was one of the nation’s top all-purpose threats this season, averaging 200.8 total yards per game. The senior did most of his damage on the ground (1,469 yards) but was second on the team with 44 catches and averaged 23.9 yards per kickoff return. Can Georgia State find a way to slow down Ervin? The Panthers ranked fourth in the Sun Belt against the run, allowing 179.8 yards per game. This unit played better in the second half of the season and limited Georgia Southern (No. 1 nationally in rush offense) to 135 rushing yards in the season finale. Linebacker Joseph Peterson anchors the front seven for coordinator Jesse Minter and was active around the line of scrimmage (106 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss). Keep an eye on the 100-yard mark. In five out of San Jose State’s seven losses, Ervin was held under 100 yards and did not reach 100 yards in three out of the last four games.
3. San Jose State QB Kenny Potter
San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter didn’t garner the postseason recognition that Arbuckle accumulated, but the junior college transfer was solid in his first year on campus. Potter threw for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns and finished the season with 346 rushing yards and six scores. Additionally, the junior ended the regular season with back-to-back 300-yard passing games. The San Jose State passing attack suffered a setback with receiver Tyler Winston suffering a season-ending injury in late October. Tight end Billy Freeman (47 catches) has been Potter’s go-to weapon, but receivers Hansell Wilson and Tim Crawley will test a Georgia State secondary that allowed 18 passing scores in the regular season. Avoiding turnovers will be critical for Potter after San Jose State finished with a minus-five ratio. The Panthers played better on defense in the second half of the year and only allowed 10 plays of 40 yards or more after giving up 18 in 2014. The extra practice time should be beneficial to Potter, but the Spartans also need a mistake-free game in a contest that’s expected to be close.
This is a tough game to get a read on. Both teams average around 30 points a game and feature talented weapons on offense, so a low-scoring contest would be a surprise. Georgia State ended the year playing at its highest level of the season and the short layoff shouldn’t do too much to slow coach Trent Miles’ team. San Jose State’s balance on offense will be tough for the Panthers to contain, especially if running back Tyler Ervin gets on track in the first half. The good folks in Vegas like San Jose State as a slight favorite, but the guess here is Georgia State’s offense finds just enough room against the Spartans’ secondary to notch the wining score late in the fourth quarter.