Georgia State Gives Sun Belt Home In ATL
By Zack DuFour
With the 2013 addition of the Georgia State Panthers to the Sun Belt, there were many questions asked, most of them along the lines of "Does Georgia State have a football team?" or "Why not add Georgia Southern?"
Contrary to the hand-wringing of many Sun Belt fans, the addition of the Panthers may not be a bad move on commisioner Karl Benson's part.
To be fair to those aforementioned hand-wingers, the school's football program, which began in 2010, has been poor for most of its existence. Only once in their three years of playing have the Panthers notched a .500 record.
The Panthers are going to struggle in the Sun Belt for the next five years, but the decision to add the team may be one of the more forward thinking moves to come from the Sun Belt brass.
A lot of it has to do with location.
For being one of the traditional hotbeds of college football, Georgia has only two FBS programs.
Well, at least it did.
Bringing a team into the state of Georgia, let alone Atlanta, could be a boon to the Sun Belt, which has struggled in the past with low attendance. The university's prime location coupled with an enthusiastic fan base makes it easy to see why the Sun Belt had their eyes on the Panthers. With their home games being played in the Georgia Dome, the team has drawn more than 30,000 fans. Also, there's the enticing opportunity for the Sun Belt to break into the Atlanta TV market, which is no small feat.
Years down the road, it's possible that we'll be seeing sought-after Georgian recruits choosing to compete in the Sun Belt
For now, though, the team will have some major growing pains.
Georgia State seems to have three candidates for quarterback next year. None of them seem like good options. Senior Kelton Hill, who started last year before being moved to defensive back and then receiver, will most likely get another chance to start. Although clearly athletic, Hill's versatility never really translated into production for the Panthers. He completed 7-of-14 pass attempts and threw one interception last year.
Hill will have to fend off sophomores Ronnie Bell and Ben McClane. Bell, who showed potential last year as a freshman averaging 15 yards a completion, may be given a shot if Hill fails to prove himself. Unfortunately, Bell was unreliable last year, throwing 10 interceptions out of only 67 passes. McClane, the other sophomore, is much more consistent than Bell, but poses no downfield threat, something Georgia State needs to compete with the prolific offenses of Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State.
Despite the absence of a reliable quarterback, there are glimmers of hope for the Panthers. Senior receiver Albert Wilson proved to be a legitimate threat last year, averaging 19.7 yards a catch with 7 touchdowns. It's doubtful that he'll be getting the help he needs, but Wilson will be a player that other Sun Belt coaches notice. With the hiring of former Indiana State coach Trent Miles, the Panthers can also rely on a steady hand to guide the team. Miles, who led Indiana State to a 7-4 record last year, has made some interesting hires that may shake the Panthers out of the doldrums. Jesse Minter, the architect of Indiana State's potent defense, is defensive coordinator, for instance.
It's difficult to make a firm prediction on whether Georgia State will thrive in the Sun Belt. The conference is in a state of flux that it hasn't seen before, and nobody quite knows where all the pieces will fall. The decision to add Georgia State, though initially puzzling, may be a great one in light of the ties to the Atlanta market.