Philadelphia, PA – 2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Georgia State Panthers' first season in the FBS was also just its fourth season as a football program since emerging as an FCS Independent in 2010, and as expected, their transition into the Sun Belt Conference did not go smoothly.
The Panthers expected to be in over their heads in year one, especially after finishing 1-10 in 2012, and their struggles continued with a winless 0-12 campaign in Trent Miles' first season as head coach.
GSU couldn't even gain momentum early in the season against FCS competition, losing to Samford (31-21), Chattanooga (42-12) and Jacksonville State (32-26 in OT) in September. It was also outmatched on the road against then-No. 1 Alabama (45-3) and dropped all seven of their Sun Belt matchups to finish alone in last place. The team showed some improvement late in the season however, putting up a strong showing at bowl-bound Arkansas State on Nov. 23, losing by just two, 35-33.
The Panthers' transition into the FBS is officially complete, meaning they will be eligible for postseason play for the first time in 2014.
OFFENSE: GSU had a lackluster offensive attack to say the least in 2013, finishing last in the Sun Belt in scoring (18.8 ppg) and second-to-last in yardage (355.2 ypg). The team only brings back five starters, but perhaps a new crop of talent will result in better production this time around.
Ronnie Bell couldn't get much going in his first season with the Panthers after transferring from Ohio University, as he completed only 50.1 percent of his passes, although he did accumulate 2,573 yards, had more touchdowns (15) than interceptions (11) and added three rushing scores, all of which have to be taken as positives on a winless team.
Unfortunately Bell will be without his top receiver this time around now that Albert Wilson (71 receptions, 1,117 yards, eight TDs) is trying his hand at the NFL. Robert Davis (44 receptions, 711 yards, four TDs) will need to step up as the go-to option, and tight end Keith Rucker (14 receptions, 232 yards, TD) also figures to have a larger role in the offense.
The running game was stagnant last season, with the team averaging a mere 3.4 ypc over 364 attempts. Jonathan Jean-Bart (269 yards, TD) will likely be the lead back.
Only two starting offensive lineman return, center Tim Wynn and guard A.J. Kaplan.
DEFENSE: Unsurprisingly, GSU also boasted the Sun Belt's worst scoring defense a season ago, surrendering 36.7 ppg.
The unit is lucky enough to welcome back its most important playmaker in linebacker Joseph Peterson, who racked up 103 tackles and 6.0 TFL as a junior. Linebacker in undoubtedly the strength of the Panthers' defense, as Tarris Batiste (77 tackles, 9.5 TFL, INT) and Mackendy Cheridor (34 tackles, 7.5 TFL) are also fresh off solid campaigns.
The team carries plenty of youth along the defensive line, with five returning sophomores having seen action as freshmen last year, but only Shawayne Lawrence (25 tackles, 3.5 TFL, sack) did anything significant. Things are looking up for him after making an impact at such a young age.
"Shawayne Lawrence played all of last season at 17 years old," Miles said. "He and a lot of the young guys that played are starting to mature along with their bodies."
Pass rush is a definite concern after the squad totaled only 11 sacks in 2013.
The top five tacklers in the secondary from last season have all moved on, leaving safety LaDarion Young (22 tackles) and cornerback Morris Myles (18 tackles) as the leaders of an inexperienced defensive backfield.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both kicking specialists are back in the fray. Will Lutz was solid on field goal attempts, making 8-of-12, and showed plenty of leg with a long of 53. Matt Hubbard was one of the busiest punters in the nation with 78 punts (42.0-yard average).
In addition to his outstanding receiving abilities, Wilson was also the team's top return man with 730 kickoff and 125 punt return yards. In his absence, and with Kelton Hill (18 returns, 306 yards) also gone, it'll be an open competition in camp to become the next return man.
OUTLOOK: GSU went through plenty of expected growing pains last season, and the hope is that those struggles will ultimately help the team grow in the long run.
"We're very exciting to start this season. We are undefeated," Miles said. "Our kids are coming in with a tremendous attitude and we are looking forwards to a season. We have raised our expectations from teaching our guys how to compete to teaching them how to compete to win."
After the Panthers said goodbye to many seniors last year, players from their very first recruiting class in 2010, they are left with a surprisingly depleted roster. Even with four new teams joining the league this season, including two from the FCS ranks, GSU appears destined to be situated near the bottom of the standings once again. Its primary goal should be to snap its lengthy losing streak at some point during the season.