Prior to last season, our Sun Belt "experts" (collection of malcontents and misanthropes that we are) usually lumped in Georgia State Panthers football along with the black hole Sun Belt programs from which light or touchdowns could not escape.
Thinkpieces flowed aplenty from the
pens keyboards of Group of Five analysts on how GSU was a test case in how not to start a football program and almost immediately move to the FBS.
Then, one cloudy day in San Marcos, Texas, Georgia State announced to the world that they were not going to be pushed around. They thoroughly obliterated a hapless Texas State team (who, much to the detriment of my sanity, made a habit of making previously woeful teams look like the Denver Broncos) in their own place and suddenly ran off what seemed at the time an improbable string of victories over the Alabama schools that suddenly got everyone in the conference paying attention.
But surely they couldn't go into Statesboro and take down the defending champions of the Sun Belt, those big bad Bullies of the Sun Belt who had started referring to the Georgia Dome as Paulson North?
Guess again. The Panthers harnessed an otherworldly amount of #SunBeltHeat and mollywhomped the "other," now nowhere near official GSU in their own house, getting themselves to an incredibly improbable bowl bid. All this after losing to FCS Liberty early on in the season.
Georgia State taught us two lessons: Never count out a school whose offense can make your defense hurt worse than a Las Vegas hangover and to never, ever give up, no matter how bleak your program's outlook might be.
GSU's insurgence was an inspirational story. But can it last in the long run?
- Three letters: ATL. Bright lights, big city, and a potential ocean of donor money and ad revenue to swim in if they can make it big. Their ceiling might be as high as anyone's in the conference.
- Last season showed that winning is possible at a program that previously did not have anything to its name.
- 2015's NCAA March Madness run put Georgia State on the map nationally and gave the Panther fanbase reasons to care about sports. Perhaps that will trickle over into football successes as well?
- The recruiting base is absolutely an asset. Georgia has an embarrassment of talent, and plenty of it can trickle down to the G5 level (just look at how Southern recruited last year). With the right recruiters, GSU could get plenty of 3-star talent with the occasional shot at a 4-star caliber transfer.
- Before last season, GSU was way off schedule in the program-building department. Now, with Nick Arbuckle on his way out, the next few seasons will provide a major test to the program's depth. Was last year a one-time case of stars aligning?
- Although Turner Field will be a considerable upgrade over an 80% empty Georgia Dome, it's not certain if Georgia State will be able to afford the renovations.
- Georgia State still has a long way to go in building a viable long-term base of support in a metro area with plenty of teams to compete with. Averaging 10,000 fans per game isn't going to cut it for too much longer.
Making the case for why GSU should be higher than 9th: Jeremy Harper, Senior Editor and Arkansas State Beat Writer
I sat down and ranked every Sun Belt program and was surprised to see the Panthers in the top five. Maybe I shouldn't be. Georgia State bears some of the most important hallmarks of a desirable coaching gig:
- An administration willing to sacrifice everything (including souls) to elevate the athletic brand of the university
- A unique set of facilities (the Georgia Dome may be somebody else's house, but it's pro-grade)
- A fan base that, while it isn't huge, certainly has moxie
- An upward trajectory built upon a base of modest expectations
- A deep recruiting pool (which, for some reason, has yet to pay dividends)
- A win-streak against its hated rival, Georgia Southern (it's one win, but so what?)
- A delightfully unexpected Bowl appearance
- Located in one of the South's finest metro areas
That's pretty good for a team that just entered the FBS fray. Georgia State may not have a deep tradition like Louisiana or a dangerous roster like Appalachian State, but the program is plowing ahead as if it plans to one day rule the Sun Belt. Sign me up!
#SunBeltHeat Index: "Careful with that plate sir, it's hot."
If you were playing NCAA football in an online dynasty...
You chose Georgia State because you want to see the Georgia Dome go from 10,000 fans to 80,000 over the course of a few seasons, or because your name is Jason Kirk. Maybe you're really interested in seeing whether EA Sports can recreate money falling from the ceiling in the Georgia Dome on your Playstation.
If you choose this job in real life...
You're not afraid of taking an FBS job that has the potential to beat the life out of you, but also has the potential to blow up into something huge. You want a position in a strong media market that could rocket you into a potential SEC job if you win big, and win consistently.
Verdict: For many years, the most common word out of the mouths of long-suffering Georgia State fans was "potential." They maintained that GSU had it in spades despite plenty of verbal slings and arrows from their conference brethren, and last year finally provided a glimpse of what that potential could entail.
To be frank, GSU under Trent Miles should no longer be mentioned as one of the Sun Belt's perennial wretches. However, is their current climb to Sun Belt respectability sustainable in the long term? The Panthers have a vision and an athletic director who believes in their potential, and that's certainly a start. However, it's still a long road to climb before we can consistently mention GSU among the Sun Belt's elite.
Best jobs in the Sun Belt countdown:
10. UL Monroe
9. Georgia State