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Georgia State's first bowl run was stunning. Now what?

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Trent Miles' three years at Georgia State have mirrored his Indiana State tenure: zero wins in Year 1, one in Year 2, six in Year 3. ISU won six games in Year 4 too, FYI.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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1. Catharsis

It had been a nice run. After beginning life in FBS with 29 losses in 32 games, Georgia State was on a three-game winning streak. The Panthers had traveled to San Marcos and pummeled a fading Texas State. They had disposed of South Alabama and Troy with relative ease (24-10 and 31-21, respectively). After almost three years of wondering why it was on this journey at all, GSU had found proof of concept.

It was going to end, though. At 5-6, GSU needed a win at rival Georgia Southern to reach bowl eligibility, and that wasn't going to happen. The Eagles were 14-1 in Sun Belt play since their FBS move. They had scored at least 37 points in eight of their last 10 games, had won three Sun Belt games by an average of 32 points since a loss to Appalachian State, and had only two weeks earlier taken Georgia to overtime. They had hung 69 points on State the year before in Atlanta. Teams that come to Statesboro desperate for a win don't leave happy.

Early in the second quarter, quarterback Nick Arbuckle hit Penny Hart for a 63-yard score to put the Panthers on top. It was a familiar sight; Arbuckle was on his way to a nearly 4,400-yard passing season, and Hart had been a revelation. The tiny freshman had been rated as the No. 213 prospect in the state of Georgia but was on his way to finishing with 1,099 yards.

Still, it was going to end. Georgia Southern responded with a touchdown, and while the game was still tied at halftime, it was only a matter of time.

GSU had no interest in fate. The Panthers forced a Southern punt, then drove 81 yards for a touchdown. They forced another and drove 85 yards for another score. They made a fourth-down stop near midfield, then began the fourth quarter with another score. Another punt, another score.

Georgia State found itself up 34-7. On Georgia Southern. In Statesboro. To clinch a bowl bid. Life sneaks up on you.

So many coaches have similar levels of talent, and what differentiates one tenure from another is a span of a few weeks here or there, when everything either comes together or falls apart.

Trent Miles appeared to be a smart choice to take on a hard job. He had resurrected a moribund Indiana State, going 1-22 in his first two seasons at his alma mater, then responding with three straight winning records. He inherited a GSU that was bereft of facilities, history, or even a campus stadium. And as is his custom, he won one game in his first two years.

Miles' third year hinted at offensive promise, but his defense still hadn't proven much, and at 2-6, with blown opportunities and tight losses against Charlotte, Liberty, and UL-Lafayette, the window to a surprising six-win season had apparently closed. But with every reason to think this tenure wasn't going to work, Miles put together a nearly perfect month.

For all we know, a series of four weeks redefined the program's trajectory. Or it delayed the inevitable. We're about to find out.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 87 | Final S&P+ Rk: 91
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
4-Sep Charlotte 124 20-23 L 28% 56% -4.6 -11.0
12-Sep at New Mexico State 118 34-32 W 25% 45% +1.8 +9.0
19-Sep at Oregon 23 28-61 L 11% 1% +6.2 +12.0
3-Oct Liberty N/A 33-41 L 35% 72% -10.5
10-Oct Appalachian State 42 3-37 L 5% 0% -22.5 -18.0
17-Oct at Ball State 110 31-19 W 55% 91% +23.5 +27.5
31-Oct at Arkansas State 71 34-48 L 19% 7% -0.5 +4.5
7-Nov UL-Lafayette 104 21-23 L 35% 52% -1.6 +1.5
14-Nov at Texas State 116 41-19 W 80% 100% +26.2 +25.0
21-Nov South Alabama 102 24-10 W 53% 87% +8.7 +11.0
27-Nov Troy 90 31-21 W 69% 93% +9.2 +9.0
5-Dec at Georgia Southern 48 34-7 W 92% 100% +48.1 +48.0
19-Dec vs. San Jose State 89 16-27 L 29% 31% -12.5 -8.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.7 76 32.5 96
Points Per Game 26.9 79 28.3 79

2. Healthier + luckier = better

Georgia State still has plenty of institutional disadvantages. But Miles' third squad found advantages that his second team had not.

In 2014, GSU was ripped up by injury at running back, linebacker, and defensive back and dealt with some of the worst turnovers luck in the country. That they had still managed to craft a decent passing game and lose to two bowl teams (UL-Lafayette, South Alabama) by three points on the road hinted at potential.

Injuries hurt in the present tense but help in the future tense. GSU had a much sturdier level of depth and experience in 2015, in part because of 2014's injuries. And when combined with much better injuries and turnovers luck, the Panthers found staying power.

Or maybe it was more like surging power. When other teams faded, GSU got better.

  • First 8 games:
    Average percentile performance: 26% | Record: 2-6 | Avg. score: Opp 36, GSU 26 | Yards per play: GSU 6.1, Opp 5.8
  • Next 4 games:
    Average percentile performance: 74% | Record: 4-0 | Avg. score: GSU 33, Opp 14 | Yards per play: GSU 6.7, Opp 4.6

It wasn't just that GSU won its last four games of the regular season; it's that the Panthers did it by an average of 19 points. That was jarring. Yes, the season ended with a dud in the Cure Bowl, but that wasn't enough to take away from November.

How much is sustainable? GSU was so young in 2014 that, even with so much more 2015 experience, the Panthers still return their top four running backs, seven of their top eight receiving targets, six offensive linemen with starting experience, their top seven defensive linemen, four of their top five linebackers, and five of their top seven defensive backs. The volume of experience here is wonderful, and they're projected in the top five of the Sun Belt because of it.

What we don't know is whether the Panthers have a quarterback. Nick Arbuckle was very good -- you could make a case that he was the best college QB in the state of Georgia -- and he's gone.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.39 16 IsoPPP+ 100.8 61
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.2% 73 Succ. Rt. + 93.6 101
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.4 82 Def. FP+ 31.5 102
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 46 Redzone S&P+ 104.1 55
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.1 ACTUAL 23 +2.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 43 80 101 61
RUSHING 126 126 119 127
PASSING 9 44 60 43
Standard Downs 106 115 84
Passing Downs 35 33 37
Q1 Rk 88 1st Down Rk 91
Q2 Rk 48 2nd Down Rk 82
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 88
Q4 Rk 122

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Nick Arbuckle 307 486 4368 28 12 63.2% 33 6.4% 8.0
Emiere Scaife 6'2, 218 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7988 0 8 0 0 0 0.0% 1 11.1% -0.4
Aaron Winchester 6'2, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7971
Conner Manning
(Utah)
6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8326

3. Life after Arbuckle

Arbuckle was encouraging in 2014 and downright awesome in 2015. The two-year starter from Camarillo, Cal., threw for 3,283 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2014, but he took a few too many sacks (6.5 percent sack rate) and threw a few too many picks (4 percent interception rate). Granted, he still held onto the ball a bit too long at times, but his 2015 production was a leap forward -- he improved from 6.8 yards per pass attempt to 8, and his INT rate fell to 2.5 percent.

Now he's gone. Miles has managed some impressive continuity on his offensive coaching staff, where both quarterbacks coach Luke Huard and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski remain. They were able to engineer clear improvement out of Arbuckle and may be able to do the same with the next guy. Still, it's hard to imagine QB doesn't regress.

There are three candidates.

  • Emiere Scaife. Arbuckle's backup in 2015, Scaife threw eight passes as a redshirt freshman. He completed none of them and took a sack, resulting in an average of minus-0.4 yards per pass attempt. He was a decent recruit, choosing GSU over Appalachian State and hometown Charlotte.
  • Aaron Winchester. A dual-threat from Alpharetta, he could stand out by having a different skill set than his competitors.
  • Conner Manning. GSU potentially got a lifeline when this former three-star recruit not only transferred in from Utah but secured immediate eligibility by finishing his undergrad study in 2.5 years. He's the rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility. He threw a few passes in 2014 and, like, Scaife, didn't take advantage of his opportunity.

Due to his recruiting profile and age alone, Manning might be the new favorite. But the bar is awfully high.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Glenn Smith RB 6'1, 185 Jr. NR NR 89 356 1 4.0 5.5 27.0% 1 1
Kyler Neal RB 5'11, 218 Jr. NR NR 84 329 5 3.9 4.0 25.0% 2 1
Demarcus Kirk RB 6'0, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544 75 320 2 4.3 3.9 32.0% 3 3
Taz Bateman RB 5'8, 185 Jr. NR 0.7900 49 251 1 5.1 3.5 51.0% 2 1
Nick Arbuckle QB 28 115 6 4.1 5.6 25.0% 2 2
Marcus Caffey RB 12 62 0 5.2 4.7 50.0% 1 1
Marquan Greene WR 5'10, 180 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 6 19 0 3.2 0.8 33.3% 0 0
Kendrick Dorn RB 6'0, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652
Tra Barnett RB 5'10, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856
Darius Stubbs RB 5'10, 188 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8005







4. You might actually need to run the ball this year

The success of the passing game took away from a nagging issue: GSU couldn't run to save its life. The Panthers ranked a dismal 126th in Rushing S&P+, surviving only because Arbuckle and his receivers were so good on passing downs. But with a new QB, issues in the ground game could become more problematic.

That GSU returns its top four backs is a good thing, and it's worth noting all four were either freshmen or sophomores a year ago. Glenn Smith showed decent burst when he got an opportunity, but neither he nor any of his counterparts got many opportunities.

It's hard to assign blame between the young corps of running backs and the linemen who were blocking for them. That a glitchy line has to replace two starters isn't a good thing, but there's decent experience up front. We'll have to see if there's a back capable of taking advantage.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Penny Hart WR 5'9, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7891 105 71 1099 67.6% 22.1% 10.5 62.9% 46.7% 2.08
Robert Davis WR 6'3, 198 Sr. NR NR 100 62 995 62.0% 21.0% 10.0 64.0% 50.0% 1.80
Donovan Harden WR 69 39 725 56.5% 14.5% 10.5 55.1% 53.6% 1.79
Keith Rucker TE 6'3, 235 Sr. NR NR 46 39 522 84.8% 9.7% 11.3 56.5% 71.7% 1.53
Todd Boyd WR 5'11, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483 34 25 296 73.5% 7.1% 8.7 55.9% 52.9% 1.48
Glenn Smith RB 6'1, 185 Jr. NR NR 25 17 115 68.0% 5.3% 4.6 36.0% 20.0% 1.97
Kyler Neal RB 5'11, 218 Jr. NR NR 16 11 87 68.8% 3.4% 5.4 50.0% 37.5% 1.01
Taz Bateman RB 5'8, 185 Jr. NR 0.7900 14 12 163 85.7% 2.9% 11.6 35.7% 57.1% 1.84
Nyiakki Height WR 12 8 122 66.7% 2.5% 10.2 58.3% 41.7% 2.09
Ari Werts TE 6'4, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8037 12 5 84 41.7% 2.5% 7.0 33.3% 41.7% 1.40
Demarcus Kirk RB 6'0, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544 10 8 84 80.0% 2.1% 8.4 70.0% 70.0% 1.02
Kam Myers WR
10 4 29 40.0% 2.1% 2.9 40.0% 30.0% 0.91
Joel Ruiz TE 7 4 38 57.1% 1.5% 5.4 85.7% 57.1% 0.84
Bill Teknipp TE 6'4, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 6 2 12 33.3% 1.3% 2.0 50.0% 33.3% 0.43
Avery Sweeting WR 4 1 43 25.0% 0.8% 10.8 75.0% 25.0% 3.35
Octavious Andrews WR 6'0, 180 Sr. NR NR 3 1 14 33.3% 0.6% 4.7 66.7% 33.3% 1.65
Eric Elder WR 6'1, 177 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856
Jawan Nobles WR 6'3, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7880

5. Receivers for days

Granted, you don't want to have to lean on a new QB too much on passing downs, but when the new QB is surveying the field, he should find some exciting options.

Hart was able to single-handedly make Arbuckle's job easier when he came out of nowhere. He caught 21 passes for 331 yards in his first three games (nine for 128 against Oregon), and he caught between five and seven balls for eight straight games before a one-catch dud in the Cure Bowl. His emergence meant everybody else could move down a weight class. Robert Davis turned into a stellar No. 2 (or No. 1a) with 62 catches and 10.0 yards per target. Tight end Keith Rucker became an extreme efficiency weapon, with an 85 percent catch rate and 72 percent success rate. Hell, even as the No. 5 target, Todd Boyd still had 25 catches and 8.7 yards per target.

These guys are all back, and the running backs were decent receiving options as well. There are exciting youngsters like sophomore tight end Ari Werts and incoming freshmen Eric Elder and Jawan Nobles, but they might have to wait their turn.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 85.7 2.58 2.83 30.6% 54.3% 22.3% 82.4 6.5% 6.6%
Rank 121 110 102 127 120 102 94 97 50
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Alex Stoehr RG 6'2, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7700 13 25
Taylor Evans LG 12 20
Michael Ivory LT 6'5, 340 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 9 14
Jah-Mai Davidson RT
13 13
Gabe Mobley C 6'2, 275 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7736 11 11
Garrett Gorringe C
0 10
Sebastian Willer LT 6'5, 279 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 4 4
Akil Hawkins RG 6'2, 282 Sr. NR NR 0 4
Davis Moore LG 6'4, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 2 3
Kelepi Folau LG 1 1
Lucas Johnson RT 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 0 0
Tyler Simonsen OL 6'3, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7800 0 0
Dom Roldan OL 6'6, 350 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594 0 0
Malik Besseck OL 6'4, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.15 18 IsoPPP+ 105.9 45
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.3% 75 Succ. Rt. + 95.4 83
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 25.3 128 Off. FP+ 24.1 128
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.1 39 Redzone S&P+ 102.5 61
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.7 ACTUAL 22.0 +0.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 74 60 83 45
RUSHING 76 38 51 29
PASSING 66 83 114 66
Standard Downs 73 97 55
Passing Downs 22 26 24
Q1 Rk 75 1st Down Rk 69
Q2 Rk 65 2nd Down Rk 63
Q3 Rk 70 3rd Down Rk 53
Q4 Rk 67

6. Bend ... bend ... bend...

Georgia State's defense played with bend-don't-break principles in 2015; the Panthers allowed a mediocre 42 percent success rate but gave up just 20 gains of 30-plus yards, 26th in FBS. That can work as long as you're not bending too much. And in their late-season surge, they managed to tighten up the efficiency issues without giving up a higher rate of big plays.

After allowing a 44.5 percent success rate through eight games, they allowed just 37.6 during their three-game winning streak. That average would have ranked in the top 30 over a full season. You can win a lot of games in the Sun Belt with a defense that efficient.

Stil, Jesse Minter's defense was a bit confusing: good against the run and bad against the pass, bad on standard downs but good on passing downs. That's a rare combination. GSU was good at defending the run but wasn't good on downs when the offense was more likely to run?

I think the explanation is that GSU was indeed good against the run but was really, really bad against the pass until second- or third-and-long. Regardless, the ceiling for the defense could be pretty high with the experience returning.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.7 2.91 3.11 37.7% 65.5% 19.4% 56.9 0.4% 8.3%
Rank 71 74 56 61 59 74 126 128 45
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shawanye Lawrence DE 6'4, 270 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 33.5 4.4% 3.5 0.5 0 4 0 0
Mackendy Cheridor DE 6'5, 250 Jr. NR NR 13 29.5 3.8% 6.5 3.0 0 2 1 0
Carnell Hopson DE 6'2, 268 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 16.0 2.1% 2.0 2.0 0 2 1 0
Jalen Lawrence NG 6'1, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800 13 15.5 2.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tevin Jones DE 6'4, 270 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 13.0 1.7% 0.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Julien Laurent NG 6'4, 325 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 12 9.0 1.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marterious Allen DE 6'2, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806 11 3.0 0.4% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
David Huey NG 4 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Will Cunningham DE 6'1, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR
DeQueszman Kelley NG 6'0, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300
Tavis Malakius NG 6'2, 320 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Joseph Peterson ILB 12 92.5 12.1% 9.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Kaleb Ringer ILB 6'0, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7883 12 59.0 7.7% 3.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Alonzo McGee OLB 6'1, 220 Sr. NR NR 13 56.0 7.3% 12.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Trey Payne ILB 6'0, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 12 32.0 4.2% 4.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Michael Shaw OLB 6'4, 222 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 13 31.0 4.0% 7.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Everett
(ODU)
OLB 6'5, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8069 12 28.0 3.8% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Melvin King OLB 13 16.5 2.1% 2.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
James Traylor OLB 6'3, 220 Jr. NR NR 9 12.5 1.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ed Curney LB 5'11, 220 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8213 11 12.0 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chase Middleton ILB 6'2, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8167 13 8.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Niemus Bryant OLB 6'0, 220 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483 13 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jameel Spencer LB 6'1, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7600 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Malik Ricks LB 6'1, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8107
Charlie Patrick LB 6'0, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856
Peyton Moore LB 6'2, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844








7. All the experience you could want

The Panthers made dramatic progress against the run in 2015, improving from 125th in Rushing S&P+ to a stunning 38th. Linebackers Alonzo McGhee (a UAB transfer) and Joseph Peterson (the only major player gone from the front seven) pursued incredibly well and combined for 17 non-sack tackles for loss. And while Peterson was the resident tackling machine, Kaleb Ringer made a huge impact on the interior.

McGee's return, along with that of Ringer and basically everybody up front, suggests good things about the run defense in 2016. So does the fact that the front seven is returning six starters and basically every second-stringer.

And at the very least, GSU blitzed well. No one in the country sacked the quarterback less frequently on standard downs, which hurt the Panthers badly when it came to forcing passing downs. But GSU reached the quarterback on one of every 12 passing downs pass attempts. Flip the leverage rate (the ratio of standard downs to passing downs) a bit, and watch Georgia State's overall defensive ratings rise quickly.

But is that doable? It might depend on Michael Shaw. As a freshman, Shaw finished with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and he had at least one TFL in each of the season's final four games. If he's ready to match McGee's attacking ability, then the Panthers will have two outstanding outside linebackers and, in theory, more pass rushing options.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tarris Batiste S 13 83.0 10.8% 6.5 0 4 6 2 0
Bobby Baker S 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 13 64.5 8.4% 1 0 3 5 1 1
Chandon Sullivan CB 5'11, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483 13 46.0 6.0% 4.5 2 2 8 0 0
Jerome Smith CB 5'10, 165 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 12 35.0 4.6% 2 0.5 1 11 0 0
Bruce Dukes CB 12 25.0 3.3% 0 0 1 9 0 0
Bryan Williams S 6'3, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 17.0 2.2% 1.5 0 1 4 0 0
Antreal Allen CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8211 10 8.5 1.1% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Nate Simon S 13 6.0 0.8% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Dartez Jacobs S 12 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
B.J. Clay CB 6'0, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cloves Campbell DB 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 13 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Robert Dowling CB 5'10, 185 Sr. NR 0.7000
Trent Hill S 5'10, 185 Sr. NR NR
Ronald Peterkin S 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594
Kendrec Grady S 6'2, 209 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217
Kwon Williams S 6'0, 202 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8189








8. Wanted: a little bit more pressure on first down

In the South Alabama preview, I said that with an improved pass rush, the USA secondary could thrive. It's basically the same thing for GSU. Granted, the passing downs pass rush was solid, but you can't wait for third-and-long for opponents to throw the ball.

  • On third-and-7 or longer, opponents were 39-for-74 (53 percent) for 413 yards, one touchdown, and six interceptions (passer rating: 87.9)
  • On first downs, opponents were 115-for-179 (64% percent) for 1,430 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception (passer rating: 146.8).

Losing safety Terris Batiste and corner Bruce Dukes hurts; the two combined for 6.5 tackles for loss (all from Batiste) and 20 passes defensed. But the Panthers still have play-makers in safety Bobby Baker (another UAB transplant) and corners Chandon Sullivan and Jerome Smith, who combined for 6.5 TFLs and 22 passes defensed as a sophomore and freshman, respectively. Throw in former star recruit Antreal Allen and some combination of a few other upperclassmen and incoming star recruits Kendrec Grady and Kwon Williams, and you've got yourself one hell of a two-deep. Give the secondary a little more help, and watch the success rate plummet.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Wil Lutz 65 44.3 4 10 17 41.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Wil Lutz 65 62.8 35 0 53.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Wil Lutz 42-43 7-10 70.0% 5-9 55.6%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Marquan Greene KR 5'10, 180 So. 16 24.3 1
Glenn Smith KR 6'1, 185 Jr. 7 21.6 0
Donovan Harden PR 6 -0.2 0
Avery Sweeting PR 2 14.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 116
Field Goal Efficiency 93
Punt Return Success Rate 128
Kick Return Success Rate 124
Punt Success Rate 100
Kickoff Success Rate 47

9. Starting over on special teams (and that's okay)

Special teams were a massive drag for GSU in 2015. Will Lutz's kickoffs (and the corresponding coverage) were solid, and Lutz's strong leg made long field goals an option, but his was erratic inside of 40 yards, and while his punts were long, they were also returnable: The Panthers allowed 14.1 yards per punt return and two scores.

Meanwhile, both kick and punt returns were horrific. Marquan Greene did return one kickoff for a touchdown, but it was one of only three returns of 30-plus yards all season. Greene is back, but GSU is looking for a new punt returner and, with Lutz gone, a new punter, kicker, and kickoffs guy, too. But hey, at least the bar is pretty low here, even if Lutz's leg really was strong.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
2-Sep Ball State 101 2.4 55%
10-Sep at Air Force 80 -12.0 24%
17-Sep at Wisconsin 37 -20.9 11%
1-Oct at Appalachian State 59 -16.3 17%
8-Oct Texas State 120 8.3 69%
15-Oct at Troy 103 -4.2 40%
22-Oct Tennessee-Martin NR 13.9 79%
29-Oct at South Alabama 115 0.1 50%
3-Nov Arkansas State 89 -2.1 45%
12-Nov UL-Monroe 125 10.7 73%
19-Nov Georgia Southern 52 -10.1 28%
3-Dec at Idaho 108 -1.5 47%
Projected wins: 5.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -32.8% (120)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 121 / 129
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -1 / 1.5
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 56% (45%, 68%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 7.3 (-1.3)

10. Survive an early gauntlet

It's so hard to make a prediction about a team with such a huge unknown at quarterback. Maybe Manning grasps the Jagodzinski offense from Day 1 and is able to replicate Arbuckle's numbers. Or maybe it never clicks, and GSU ends up going with a sophomore or redshirt freshman who might not be ready yet.

With solid QB play and further development in the pass rush, this could be one of the three or four best teams in the Sun Belt. The schedule, which features seven games against teams projected 101st or worse (and two more in the 80s) could lend itself to a second straight bowl run.

Regardless, the key will be another late kick. After a home opener against Ball State, GSU travels to Air Force, Wisconsin, and Appalachian State in succession. Combined record of those three last year: 29-11. Starting with the Texas State game on October 8, basically every game is winnable. So GSU has until then to answer a couple of questions.