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What Is a Georgia State?

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Part 1 of a series introducing Georgia State, Atlanta's youngest football program, and examining the program's long-term prospects.

Ronnie Bell looks downfield against Alabama.
Ronnie Bell looks downfield against Alabama.
Kevin C. Cox

Georgia State is still a new and unknown commodity for most of the college football world. Rather than a futile attempt to improve on the best Georgia State 2014 season preview you will find, let's review Georgia State's brief football history before examining the program's promising future over the rest of this week.

Georgia State is the youngest football program in the Football Bowl Subdivision, commonly called Division 1. The growing program represents a young and growing university, as the Atlanta institution did not achieve university status until 1969. GSU was designated a research university in 1995, setting off a period of enrollment growth and physical expansion that continues to the present day.

Long considered a commuter school, on-campus dorms were added following the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The Olympic Village was later sold to Georgia Tech, but Georgia State continued to acquire and build housing space for a growing population of students seeking the traditional college experience. In the South, that includes football.

Georgia State athletics left the Atlantic Sun for the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005. Though the move was a step-up for basketball and baseball in the conference pecking order, it placed GSU in a new home rapidly establishing a reputation as the nation's premier 1-AA football conference. One year after moving to the CAA, the university commissioned a feasibility study and began surveying alumni and student support for the addition of football.

On April 17, 2008, the university announced plans to establish a football program. Veteran coach Bill Curry left his ESPN booth to become the first head coach, with a five year commitment to build the infrastructure and coach the first three seasons. Curry's name recognition and statewide connections built through years at Georgia Tech provided credibility in attracting corporate and government support, and finding players willing to redshirt en masse and devote a year to practice before playing any games.

Practice facilities and football offices were constructed and recruits signed as Georgia State prepared for the 2010 kickoff, the first of two planned seasons as a 1-AA independent. The Panthers took the Georgia Dome field with a team composed largely of RS freshmen (c/o 2009), true freshmen (2010), and walk-ons, and emerged with a 41-7 victory over NAIA Shorter. The team battled to a 6-5 season, including the first road win in school history, over the non-scholarship Campbell Fighting Camels.

The 2011 season could not build on the Panthers' initial success. A program with only three scholarship classes was undone by QB problems, as the preseason starter was handed a multi-game suspension, and his backup arrested. The Panthers started the season with a punter taking snaps under center and stumbled to a 3-8 record, highlighted by a homecoming victory over then 1-AA South Alabama, now a Sun Belt rival.

The biggest news for Georgia State football in 2011 took place off the field. Texas A&M and Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference in September, setting off a whirlwind of conference expansion. As the moves progressed down the food chain, GSU was offered a position in the Sun Belt to replace departing members, and the administration jumped at the chance.

On April 9, 2012, Georgia State announced they were leaving the CAA to join the Sun Belt. A program that had yet to play a complete season of a 1-AA schedule was moving to Division 1.

The 2012 season saw the Panthers in the awkward position of playing their first and only season in the CAA. It did not go well. Georgia State was outscored by over 21 points a game in a 1-10 season that leaves you wondering what was going on with Rhode Island.

Curry retired as planned following the season, though steadily diminishing wins and declining attendance did not lead anyone to beg that he reconsider. The university pulled off an impressive hire when it was announced that Indiana State's Trent Miles would take over the program. Miles is an ISU alum who had led what was considered one of the worst programs in 1-AA to three consecutive winning seasons and into the national rankings.

Under Miles, the Panthers demonstrated growth throughout the 2013 season, but it did not lead to any wins. A program that should have still been finding its way and learning how to compete in 1-AA went winless in Division 1.

The Panthers approach 2014 with a young team, hoping to be consistently competitive in conference play as they continue to develop the program. And to beat that new Sun Belt team from down in the boondocks.

* Wednesday: A look at Georgia State football in 2014.

* Part 2 was written and scheduled for Tuesday morning but lost to the internet monster. Rather than rush a rewrite, the series will now run on the ever-popular M-W-Th-F publication schedule.