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1. Gotta start somewhere
Really, if you were building a FBS program from scratch, wouldn't Atlanta be just about the best possible location? Atlanta is for all intents and purposes the capital of college football, and GSU won't have to go far to locate talent. Now ... make no mistake: Georgia State is going to be absolutely awful in 2013. Terrible. But the Panthers' decision to move to the FBS ranks after just three years in existence was not about the current product. It was about what the product might become. In that regard, this move makes a lot of sense even though GSU went a ghastly 1-10 at the FCS level last year.
I didn't try to put much of a positive spin on Georgia State's prospects in the Panthers' 2013 season preview. There was just not much of a chance that a team that had gone 1-10 in FCS in 2012 was going to jump to the Sun Belt and do much of anything, even if it had made a seemingly solid head coaching hire in drawing something-out-of-nothing-maker Trent Miles from Indiana State.
Sure enough, they went 0-12, getting outscored, 86-10, by two major-conference teams and losing by a combined 38 points to Samford and Chattanooga. If Appalachian State mistimed its jump to FBS this year, Georgia State didn't even try to time it right.
But the best thing about Year 1 is that it ends. With the initial pain out of the way, it's time to move forward. Maybe.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 0-12 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 121|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|30-Aug||Samford||N/A||21-31||L||21.1 - 26.9||L|
|7-Sep||Chattanooga||N/A||14-42||L||17.7 - 44.7||L|
|14-Sep||at West Virginia||76||7-41||L||8.8 - 43.5||L|
|21-Sep||Jacksonville State||N/A||26-32||L||11.6 - 48.0||L|
|5-Oct||at Alabama||2||3-45||L||11.2 - 36.5||L||-25.8|
|12-Oct||Troy||105||28-35||L||20.6 - 26.3||L||-25.8|
|19-Oct||at Texas State||107||17-24||L||24.8 - 39.7||L||-23.4|
|26-Oct||at UL-Monroe||109||10-38||L||13.5 - 46.7||L||-23.1|
|2-Nov||Western Kentucky||77||28-44||L||31.9 - 28.9||W||-15.2|
|16-Nov||UL-Lafayette||86||21-35||L||32.0 - 39.3||L||-11.6|
|23-Nov||at Arkansas State||90||33-35||L||30.0 - 18.0||W||-8.1|
|30-Nov||South Alabama||68||17-38||L||25.4 - 34.0||L||-6.8|
|Points Per Game||18.8||115||36.7||111|
|Adj. Points Per Game||20.7||115||36.0||115|
2. It got better
Through five games, Georgia State's most encouraging result was either losing by just six points to FCS Jacksonville State or losing by only 42 points to Alabama. This was going about as poorly as imagined.
But as we see from the five-game adjusted-score averages above, GSU began to show clear, demonstrable progress down the stretch, and on both sides of the ball.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 40.8, GSU 14.8 (minus-26.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 37.3, GSU 17.5 (minus-19.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 30.1, GSU 29.8 (minus-0.3)
GSU was legitimately mediocre over the last month of the season (faint praise, yes, but praise nonetheless), and while that didn't result in any wins, all you're looking for in a year like this is progress. GSU was within seven points of eventual conference champion UL-Lafayette midway through the fourth quarter and came up a two-point conversion short against Arkansas State. Against FBS competition, GSU averaged at least 5.5 yards per play five times in nine games: once in the first five and in each of the last four.
Progress? Absolutely. Now the Panthers just have to sustain it without most of their receiving corps, secondary, and offensive line.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||35.0%||120||Succ. Rt. +||76.8||122|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||33.7||119||Def. FP+||92.6||123|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.7||105||Redzone S&P+||81.2||113|
|Q1 Rk||114||1st Down Rk||91|
|Q2 Rk||126||2nd Down Rk||123|
|Q3 Rk||111||3rd Down Rk||124|
3. All or nothing (and usually nothing)
Former Boston College head coach and NFL assistant Jeff Jagodzinski took over as Miles' offensive coordinator last season, and his pro-style approach basically translated to a low-efficiency, pass-first attack. Georgia State threw downfield, for better or worse, and the result was horrific efficiency with the occasional big play.
Quarterback Ronnie Bell went through all sorts of growing pains as a sophomore starter, but his development was as responsible as anything for GSU's late-season improvement.
Ronnie Bell (first 8 games): 113-for-242 (47%), 1,520 yards (13.5 per completion), 10 TD, 7 INT
Ronnie Bell (last 4 games): 75-for-134 (56%), 1,053 yards (14.0 per completion), 5 TD, 4 INT
Bell kept up GSU's vertical tendencies while raising his completion rate nearly 10 percent. This is obviously an encouraging thing. Less encouraging: Albert Wilson, by far GSU's best play-maker in 2013, is gone, as are Bell's No. 3 and No. 4 targets.
Sophomore Robert Davis returns after quite the all-or-nothing campaign -- 48 percent catch rate, 16.2 yards per catch -- and both tight end Keith Rucker and wideout Avery Sweeting showed signs of explosiveness in limited opportunities. And Miles brought in three interesting freshmen as well. Still, this is a brand new receiving corps for Bell to get acquainted with ... that is, if Bell keeps the job. He'll have to fend off two JUCO transfers, Clay Chastain (in school last year) and Nick Arbuckle (a new signee), to remain the starter.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Ronnie Bell||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||188||376||2573||15||11||50.0%||30||7.4%||5.9|
|Ben McLane||6'1, 210||Jr.||NR||28||51||354||2||1||54.9%||2||3.8%||6.5|
|Clay Chastain||6'4, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Nick Arbuckle||6'2, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jonathan Jean-Bart||RB||5'11, 195||So.||NR||71||269||1||3.8||2.4||38.0%|
|Ronnie Bell||QB||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||49||282||3||5.8||3.8||49.0%|
|Kyler Neal||RB||5'11, 209||So.||NR||24||96||0||4.0||4.8||25.0%|
|Gerald Howse||RB||6'2, 215||Sr.||NR||15||38||0||2.5||1.3||20.0%|
|Sean Jeppesen||FB||6'0, 225||Sr.||NR||10||31||1||3.1||10.5||10.0%|
|Ben McLane||QB||6'1, 210||Jr.||NR||5||-3||0||-0.6||2.3||20.0%|
4. Something from the ground game
Even a pass-first attack needs some help from the ground game. GSU had some serious big-play ability in run-or-pass situations (i.e. standard downs), but there was just no hope for help from the ground game. Wilson was also GSU's only explosive runner, and he could only get so many touches per game. The line was able to keep defenders out of the backfield reasonably well, but that didn't translate to downfield success. Only one of every four Travis Evans carries made it five yards downfield, and two freshman running backs -- Jonathan Jean-Bart and Kyler Neal -- combined to do only slightly better.
All things considered, the line really wasn't too bad last year, but that will change in 2014 with the loss of five players with starting experience, four of whom started for at least a year. Two-year starting center Tim Wynn is back, but Miles is bringing in major reinforcements in the form of three junior college transfers. If they're ready to contribute, they certainly have some impressive size, but asking three JUCOs to be ready immediately doesn't typically work out very well.
If the line does gel to any degree, Jean-Bart does seem to have a bit of potential. His Opportunity Rate (his ability to follow blocks at least five yards downfield, basically) was much better than that of any other running back, which suggests that his vision and agility are pretty decent. He had almost no explosiveness to speak of, but in theory, the job of the running game here is efficiency. The passing game will take care of the big plays.
|Rivals||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target Rate
|Robert Davis||WR||6'3, 190||So.||NR||91||44||711||48.4%||23.0%||53.4%||7.8||89||6.3||71.5|
|Keith Rucker||TE||6'3, 232||So.||NR||29||14||232||48.3%||7.3%||64.0%||8.0||34||7.7||23.3|
|Avery Sweeting||WR||5'8, 160||Jr.||NR||16||9||120||56.3%||4.0%||46.2%||7.5||3||3.6||12.1|
|Lynquez Blair||WR||5'10, 175||Sr.||NR||11||6||44||54.5%||2.8%||45.5%||4.0||-35||4.0||4.4|
|Sean Jeppesen||FB||6'0, 225||Sr.||NR||5||5||53||100.0%||1.3%||50.0%||10.6||3||9.0||5.3|
|Jonathan Jean-Bart||RB||5'11, 195||So.||NR||4||3||35||75.0%||1.0%||66.7%||8.8||1||6.3||3.5|
|Duvall Smith||RB||5'10, 208||Sr.||NR||3||2||14||66.7%||0.8%||0.0%||4.7||-10||2.2||1.4|
|Ronnie Bell||QB||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||2||1||6||50.0%||0.5%||N/A||3.0||-8||0.0||0.6|
|Kyler Neal||RB||5'11, 209||So.||NR||2||2||24||100.0%||0.5%||50.0%||12.0||4||13.8||2.4|
|Tevish Clark||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Maaseiah Francis||WR||6'2, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Ari Werts||TE||6'4, 220||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tim Wynn||C||6'2, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||21|
|A.J. Kaplan||LG||6'4, 295||Sr.||NR||12|
|Garrett Gorringe||RG||6'4, 280||So.||NR||5|
|Brandon Pertile||RG||6'5, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||3|
|Ronald Martin||C||6'1, 280||Sr.||NR||3|
|David Huey||LG||6'2, 290||Jr.||NR|
|Davis Moore||OL||6'4, 275||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Taylor Evans||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Michael Ivory||OL||6'5, 345||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Steve Wolgamott||OL||6'6, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.6%||106||Succ. Rt. +||83.9||115|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||25.3||124||Off. FP+||92.5||121|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||92||Redzone S&P+||88.4||90|
|Q1 Rk||108||1st Down Rk||100|
|Q2 Rk||116||2nd Down Rk||121|
|Q3 Rk||106||3rd Down Rk||114|
5. Death by a million six-yard gains
The GSU offense was pretty decent at the big plays, and the defense was pretty decent at preventing them. It's the whole efficiency thing that tripped the Panthers up on both sides of the ball.
GSU's defense was in the middle of the FBS pack when it comes to the magnitude of the big plays it allowed, but the Panthers ranked 115th in Success Rate+, and that was a major contributor (along with a non-existent return game) to their inability to give the offense any semblance of good field position. An impossibly young defensive line ges a little bit more experienced, so that might help, but the secondary was destroyed by graduation, which might lead to more big plays.
Plug up one leak, and another one appears.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Shawayne Lawrence||DE||6'4, 270||So.||2 stars (5.2)||11||19.0||2.7%||3.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jalen Lawrence||NG||6'1, 280||So.||2 stars (5.2)||6||8.5||1.2%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tevin Jones||DE||6'4, 260||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5||6.0||0.8%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tanner Strickland||DL||6'3, 260||So.||NR||3||5.0||0.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Carnell Hopson||DE||6'2, 250||So.||2 stars (5.2)||6||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nermin Delic||DL||6'4, 275||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||2||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Will Cunningham||DL||6'1, 270||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
6. Incredible youth
In the fall of 2012, Shawayne Lawrence was playing defensive end for Eagle's Landing High School in McDonough, GA. Jalen Lawrence was a 265-pound tackle for Macon Westside. Tevin Jones was an end at Hampton Luella. Carnell Hopson was a 255-pound tackle at Dallas (GA) South Paulding. A year later, they were all thrust onto Georgia State's defensive two-deep. Granted, only Lawrence played more than six games, but GSU's three-man line almost literally had just three healthy, able players at any time.
With this in mind, the fact that GSU ranked 102nd in Adj. Line Yards almost seems like an accomplishment. Either the three linemen the Panthers did have were pretty good, or the four-man linebacking corps was able to make up a lot of ground.
GSU is probably hoping it's the latter in 2014, because while seven of the top nine from an active, interesting set of linebackers return, two of the three default linemen do not. Up front, GSU is going to live or die by the sophomore class that got bits of experience last year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Joseph Peterson||ILB||6'0, 220||Jr.||NR||11||82.5||11.5%||6.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tarris Batiste||OLB||6'1, 210||Jr.||NR||12||62.5||8.7%||9.5||0.0||1||2||0||0|
|Mackendy Cheridor||OLB||6'4, 235||So.||NR||11||27.0||3.8%||7.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jarrell Robinson||LB||6'2, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||7||24.5||3.4%||4.5||2.0||1||1||0||0|
|Kight Dallas||LB||6'1, 230||So.||3 stars (5.5)||5||13.5||1.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Jeppesen||ILB||6'0, 225||Sr.||NR||12||12.0||1.7%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jameel Spencer||ILB||6'1, 210||So.||2 stars (5.2)||3||8.0||1.1%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Melvin King||OLB||6'3, 225||Jr.||NR||5||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Spencer Haywood||OLB||6'2, 200||Sr.||NR||3||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Malik Ricks||LB||6'2, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
7. The blitz worked
Despite the uncertainty (and, I'm assuming, fatigue) up front, the linebackers really were the strength of this team. Indiana State transfer Tarris Batiste and Mackendy Cheridor combined for 17 tackles for loss as a sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively, and Joseph Peterson was your prototypical mess-cleaning inside linebacker. Kight Dallas, once a South Carolina commit, worked his way into the rotation a bit as a freshman, and this unit more than held its own. And on the rare occasion that GSU was able to force a passing down, the GSU blitz was able to find its mark quite a bit.
The problem, of course, is that the passing downs were indeed rare. And even on passing downs, opponents were content to run, both because it avoided a GSU strength (blitzing) and because running lanes were usually available.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|LaDarion Young||S||6'1, 185||So.||2 stars (5.4)||7||18.5||2.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Myles Morris||CB||5'8, 172||So.||NR||7||15.5||2.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Trent Hill||S||5'10, 170||So.||NR||3||7.5||1.0%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Dowling||DB||5'10, 175||So.||NR||2||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Caffey||DB||5'11, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Sheldon Wynn||DB||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Nate Simon||DB||6'2, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Antreal Allen||DB||5'10, 181||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jerome Smith||DB||5'10, 174||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Ronald Peterkin||DB||6'1, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
8. Starting over in the back
If there was some experience in the secondary, I would be very much talking myself into this defense. The line is at least a little deeper, and the linebackers are good, but it's difficult to imagine the secondary being quite as sturdy from a big-play standpoint when it is replacing seven of its top 10 tacklers.
GSU basically has some sophomores, some freshmen, and some junior college transfers in the back, and while there are some star recruits in this mix -- Antreal Allen was one of two three-star signees according to Rivals, and Marcus Caffey in particular was a pretty well-regarded JUCO -- there is just too much new blood here to avoid regression. GSU should still improve in the efficiency department, and that's important, but big plays could become an issue, even with conservative coverages.
|Matt Hubbard||6'4, 235||Sr.||78||42.0||8||30||16||59.0%|
|Wil Lutz||6'0, 190||Jr.||41||55.1||10||1||24.4%|
|Matt Hubbard||6'4, 235||Sr.||3||51.3||0||0||0.0%|
|Wil Lutz||6'0, 190||Jr.||25-26||6-7||85.7%||2-5||40.0%|
|Matt Hubbard||6'4, 235||Sr.||2-2||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Special Teams F/+||111|
|Field Goal Efficiency||47|
|Punt Return Efficiency||106|
|Kick Return Efficiency||122|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||57|
9. Lutz is a keeper
GSU's special teams unit wasn't very good last year, but it's probably not going to be any worse for losing its top return men, as "top" is a pretty relative term.
Matt Hubbard is a solid punter, and Will Lutz was basically an automatic place-kicker inside of 40 yards. Outside of 40 was a different story, but that's not necessarily a big deal -- few college kickers are reliable outside of 40. But if GSU can get inside about the 20-25, the Panthers should get at least three points out of the trip. And hey, the return game really can't be much worse.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|TBD||New Mexico State||124|
|TBD||at Appalachian State||NR|
|TBD||at South Alabama||92|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||N/A|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||125|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / -10.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||9 (4, 5)|
10. The November version of GSU could win a few games
Generally speaking, improvement over your final four of five games can be indicative of permanent growth. And since Georgia State really did improve rather dramatically from month to month last year, it's not unreasonable to find reason for optimism in 2014 from that. But that growth only really matters if the reasons for growth return the next year. And between the losses in the secondary and receiving corps, there's also reason to believe GSU will be starting from scratch in some regard in 2014.
That GSU was able to rank 121st in F/+ last season, ahead of four other teams, was a bit of an accomplishment considering how awful the Panthers were at the FCS level in 2012. And if Miles is able to engineer improvement to the level of 110th or so, there are certainly some wins to be found on this schedule.
But when you're 1-21 over the last two years, you still face the burden of proof. Expect improvement, but don't expect more than a couple of wins.
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