Listen, we've all had a good laugh at the Georgia State Panthers. Like that time the Panthers went 1-11 in 2014. Or their hilarious inaugural FBS season that saw GSU crumble to Samford, Chattanooga and Jacksonville State. Ha ha! When the Panthers opened the 2015 season with a Georgia Dome loss to FBS newbie Charlotte 49ers, we prepped our slapping-knees for yet another season of family-friendly comedy.
Except, Georgia State didn't think it was funny.
The next week, the Panthers collected their first FBS victory over a not completely untalented New Mexico State Aggies squad. After stumbling against the Liberty Flames (and handing the Sun Belt its lone FCS loss), Georgia State was all business. They stepped out of conference and trumped the Ball State Cardinals 31-19. They endured a pair of tough losses to the Arkansas State Red Wolves and the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns before bouncing back against Texas State 41-19.
But the Panthers weren't fooling around. After emasculating the Bobcats in San Marcus, Georgia State crushed the South Alabama Jaguars and plastered the Troy Trojans. And then, as if to make the joke even more awkward, Georgia State upset Georgia Southern Eagles in Statesboro 34-7, which we can all agree is a seriously unprecedented outcome.
If you're good at math, you realize that the Georgia State Panthers had gone from one win to six, earning them a completely unfathomable trip to the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
It's anybody's guess whether or not the Panthers will continue to roll. How much of Georgia State's success can be attributed to Nick Arbuckle's arm? All we know is, nobody could have predicted a bowl appearance for the Panthers after that amusing 1-11 season. But, can we predict who will have Georgia State's success in 2016?
Signs are pointing to a program the Sun Belt doesn't even want: The Idaho Vandals.
Yes, the Vandals! No, don't shut down your browser! Hear me out.
The Vandals have the most experienced roster in the Sun Belt.
The Vandals, according to college football statistics wonk Phil Steele, is the most experienced team in the Sun Belt, returning 13 seniors, 61% of its tackles and 83% of its points. Experience alone won't bring glory to the Vandals, whose schedule isn't a skip through the park. And last year's 4-8 record isn't exactly inspiring confidence. So what else you got, Idaho?
Consider that this is the Vandal's next-to-last year in FBS. That gives this experienced locker room some emotional incentive to give the Sun Belt a swift kick in the ass. Furthermore, Paul Petrino strikes me as the kind of guy who'd become Robert DiNiro in Cape Fear just to exact a measure of terrible revenge on Karl Benson. Imagine Karl forced to
Matt Linehan can flat out chuck the pill.
Linehan returns to the Vandals after posting a Top 5 statistical season for the Sun Belt in 2015. With the Sun Belt's 4th best QB rating (135.5), Linehan popped off 16 TD passes for nearly 3,000 yards. With conference mainstays like Arkansas State's Fredi Knighten and Georgia State's Nick Arbuckle graduated and gone, Linehan is set to join the upper-echelon of Sun Belt QBs.
Who Else Wants It?
Well gee, of course, everybody wants it. But who has the stones to take it? Texas State Bobcats seems reborn under the captaincy of new head coach Everett Withers. The Ragin' Cajuns, hungry for QB stability since the departure of Terrance Broadway, are looking to add former LSU signal caller Anthony Jennings in time for Fall camp. Troy has become a sexy dark horse with 2nd-year head coach Neal Brown generating new (and strange) energy.
Don't forget, Georgia State is still full of sand and salt!
Another reminder that Georgia State Football's playmakers aren't going anywhere...at all. Whoever the QB is could throw for 4000 yds again.— Ben Moore (@BenMoore247) May 16, 2016
So yeah, the next Georgia State might be Georgia State, led by SBC receiving leader Penny Hart and a defense that not only limited Georgia Southern to seven measly points, but was ranked a very okay 74th in the nation.
Still, the Vandals have a good shot at becoming the Sun Belt's fourth best team. Which would be the start of a nice farewell to the FBS for Idaho and Paul Petrino.