With an expanded playoffs on the horizon, Group of Five schools’ non-conference games are more important than ever. If a G5 team wants to be one of the committee’s at-large selections, winning the conference won’t be enough. You’ve got to win against other conferences, especially the Power Fives.
For the Georgia State Panthers, that means putting on a great show in these four games in 2021.
9/4 vs Army (Independent)
Georgia State opens the season at home against Army. While by no means a powerhouse, the Black Knights perennially sit on the fringes of the AP Top 25.
Army and Georgia State have only played once: a 28-21 Panthers victory in 2019. At the time, Army was still receiving votes in the Coaches Poll.
The Black Knights are a running team (they finished fourth in the nation for rushing yards per game last season) but the Panthers are built to stop the run; State ranked third in rushing defense in 2020.
If the Panthers can prevent domination on the ground, they can and will beat Army; a huge win to open the season.
9/11 at North Carolina (ACC)
The Tar Heels had a spectacular 2020 season for a second-tier Power Five team. They finished 8-4 and both started and ended the season at #18 in the AP Top 25.
The NFL Draft, however, was not exactly kind to UNC. Five former Heels went in the draft. While that number is half as many as Alabama and Ohio State had, it’s more than pro football factories like Auburn or Miami.
UNC lost their top two receivers and their top two running backs; but both their offensive and defensive fronts remain largely intact. All five starting o-linemen are back, and six of the defensive front seven are returning, per Athlon Sports’ Jon Kinne.
It is far easier to replace the skill positions that UNC lost than the positions where they are returning starters. However, the Tar Heels will need more than two weeks of games to figure out who their new star is.
Georgia State can leave Chapel Hill with a win if they capitalize on the lack of a clear-cut number one on the ground or on the receiving end of the air game.
9/18 vs Charlotte (C-USA)
Georgia State should lay a beating on the Charlotte 49ers. While still a DI conference, Conference USA is a distinctly lower tier of football than the Sun Belt.
Charlotte had its first and only winning season in 2019, but went 2-4 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
The 49ers added a handful of starters and rotational pieces via the transfer portal, per Pete Fiutak, and also are bringing in former four-star QB James Foster. Foster played fourteen snaps over two years at Texas A&M.
It is unlikely Charlotte comes into Atlanta and comes out with a win. They have a handful of talented players, but State’s roster is better in every aspect. That doesn’t mean the Panthers can take the week off. College football is the sport of surprises, but this should be a win.
9/25 at Auburn (SEC)
Undoubtably the toughest game of the season for Georgia State is at Auburn. The Tigers haven’t lost a game to a Group of Five team since the 2018 Peach Bowl; their last home loss to a Group of Five team was in 2007.
Auburn is one of the nation’s best programs, and its worse seasons are still elite when looked at in terms of college football as a whole.
If Georgia State were to win, it would be by lucking into the first week of a QB change. Bo Nix is not what anyone had hoped or expected him to be, and Auburn brought in some competition for their returning starter. TJ Finley transferred in from LSU and incoming freshman Demtrius Davis had a strong spring scrimmage.
If Nix’s first three weeks are uneventful and Auburn benches him against GSU, the Panthers could make the game competitive by jumping on a player taking his first snaps for the Tigers.