The Georgia State football program didn't play its first game until the fall of 2010, and just three seasons later, it is set to join the ranks of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
After four teams moved from the FCS to the FBS last season (Texas State, South Alabama, Massachusetts, Texas-San Antonio), the Panthers will be the lone team to make the jump for the 2013 campaign, joining the Sun Belt Conference full time effective July 1, with postseason eligibility coming in 2014.
The program's inaugural FBS schedule was announced back in March, and it holds plenty of intrigue. In addition to hosting Sun Belt foes Troy, South Alabama and Western Kentucky, the slate of games is highlighted by a pair of high- profile road contests against West Virginia and defending national champion Alabama.
"We are excited to begin this next chapter in Georgia State football with a very attractive and challenging schedule," said Director of Athletics Cheryl L. Levick, who formerly served as the executive senior athletic director at Maryland.
The schedule also features three home bouts against FCS opponents -- Samford, Chattanooga and Jacksonville State -- which will act as much-needed transition games for a squad that finished a dismal 1-10 as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association last season.
But as the program starts a new chapter in its young history, it also begins a new regime at head coach. After literally helping build the team from scratch, Bill Curry (10-23 in three seasons) retired following the 2012 campaign, paving the way for the hiring of Trent Miles, who spent the last five seasons as head coach of Indiana State, and held offensive assistant coaching positions at Washington, Notre Dame, Stanford, Fresno State, Hawaii and with the NFL's Green Bay Packers over the past 20 years.
While Miles' mark at Indiana State (20-36) is far from impressive, he has a proven track record of building a program from the ground up. After earning just one win in 22 games during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Miles has logged winning records in each of the past three years.
The hire appears to be a good one, as Georgia State will need to exercise plenty of patience as it embarks on its transition to the next level. Even in the Sun Belt, arguably the weakest of the FBS conferences, growing pains are to be expected (FBS-newcomer South Alabama went just 1-7 in conference last year). However, Miles certainly appears to have the right attitude as he embarks on his new gig.
"We expect to win on and off the football field," Miles said in a press conference that introduced him as the new head coach in December. "It's a great opportunity and I see unlimited growth here. There is a vision, not just for now but for the future. I see this as another step in the right direction to join the Sun Belt and compete for championships."
"Coach Miles has received such tremendous support from the Georgia State family and the Atlanta community, and we look forward to helping him build this program," Levick added.
Whether or not the Panthers will have a squad talented enough to be a respectable FBS team in 2013 remains to be seen, but on judging last year's numbers, the answer appears to be a resounding 'no'. Georgia State was one of the most lackluster teams in the FCS on both sides of the ball a season ago, as it averaged a mere 17.4 ppg on 313.9 ypg while being unable to stop anyone on defense, surrendering 38.5 ppg and 470.1 ypg.
The offense clearly needs a lot of help, and Miles will conduct a three-way quarterback competition between Ben McLane, Ronnie Bell and Clay Chastain to assess which signal caller will be best suited to lead the team. McLane and Bell both saw action last season, and while neither completed greater than 51 percent of his passes, McLane's touchdown-to-interception ratio (10-to-11) was much better than Bell's (3-to-10). Chastain, a junior college transfer from Georgia Military College, passed for 1,907 yards with 20 touchdowns to just seven picks in 2012.
"Our goal this spring was to be able to evaluate our players as we install our schemes and establish our expectation level," Miles said. "We do not have all of our schemes installed, but are looking at all three quarterbacks to see how they manage the game, how they command the huddle, and do they make the right decisions."
The cupboard isn't completely bare for Georgia State. Despite the inconsistencies of his quarterbacks last season, wide receiver Albert Wilson was impressive in hauling in 48 balls for 947 yards and 7 touchdowns, and he is expected to be one of the top vertical threats in the Sun Belt. He is also a dynamic kickoff return man, averaging 25.9 per run back in 2012.
The Panthers can also count on a mainstay at right tackle in senior Grant King, who was named to Phil Steele's Preseason All-Sun Belt Team and has started every game over the last three seasons. Anchoring the defense will be proven playmakers Joseph Peterson (65 tackles, two FF), Theo Agnew (60 tackles, 8 TFL) and Terrance Woodard (59 tackles).
Although Georgia State's 2013 outlook appears bleak, the program has come a long way from not even existing a few years ago, and the future looks promising. Located in Atlanta, a hotbed for top high school talent, the team should be able to land impressive recruiting classes in the next couple of seasons, especially considering its home facilities at the famed Georgia Dome. Coupled with Miles' program-building experience and confident, professional mentality, don't be surprised if the Panthers start contending in the Sun Belt sooner rather than later.