Georgia State’s Wednesday Window
By BJ Bennett
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Having fought an uphill battle over the years, Georgia State is now looking to string want-to into wins.
On a fast-tracked transition to college football's highest level, Georgia State has understandably struggled to find footing. The Panthers have gone 1-22 the past two years, are still working to stir interest and obviously have very little history to fall back on as a crutch. Each game, every day is a key part of the building process at Georgia State. Wednesday's stand-alone, nationally-televised season-opener might be the most important moment the Panthers have had to date.
Coaching icon Bill Curry gave the program great credibility when football started under his watch back in 2010. The former pro football star and head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky led Georgia State to a winning debut, 6-5 in year one, and through the initial introduction to NCAA Division I competition. Now a member of the FBS Sun Belt Conference, the Panthers have a new product to sell. in their week one game against Abilene Christian, thanks ESPNU, they will have the ultimate platform on which to pitch.
The argument head coach Trent Miles is making is one of considerable merit. For any student-athlete, the idea of being apart of a young program right in the heart of the city of Atlanta has definite appeal. Georgia State is in a league with multiple bowl ties and has future games with the likes of Oregon, Wisconsin, Penn State and, now, Tennessee. With every step, the Panthers are forging their own legacy. Wednesday night is a chance to unveil just far they have come.
"It's a great opportunity for us to showcase our team and show we are not some team that just started football and can't compete with teams that have good tradition. It's a chance for our kids to get the monkey off their backs," Miles recently explained on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.
Having fought an uphill battle with scholarship numbers and roster dispersion over the years, Georgia State is now looking to string want-to into wins. Modest progress, after opening with disappointing losses to FCS Samford and Chattanooga, came later in the season. In league, the Panthers battled Troy, Texas State and Arkansas State to close finishes. The Sun Belt co-champion Red Wolves, winners of the GoDaddy Bowl, edged Georgia State by only two points when a late conversion attempt failed.
Bridging that gap is the next major task.
"It is definitely psychological when you don't go out and win a game. At some point, it starts playing with you mentally," Miles continued. "Physically, we just have to get older. We started 15 true freshman and Shawayne Lawrence didn't turn 18 until after the season. They are naturally going to get bigger and stronger."
It might be hard to measure progress with victories, but, with fans eager to watch live games, growth may very well come with a channel number for the Panthers. The first glimpse many have of Georgia State has a good possibility be a positive one. Miles has been very complimentary of Abilene Christian, a Division II power who has moved up to the FCS ranks. That said, this appears to be the Panthers' best shot at success in quite some time. Momentum would be monumental; Georgia State jumps right into Sun Belt Conference play the very next week against New Mexico State.
Any win, for a program still proving itself, comes with great value. One coming on an exclusive national stage would mean even more. Wednesday night is a chance for recruits to take note, casual observers to learn a new name and a chance at validation for a team fresh off a winless campaign.
"I never know how far we have left to go, but I know right now we are at a stage where we have a lot of confidence. Our kids are young and eager and have a great attitude and work ethic. We are past the competition stage, meaning just teaching how to compete. Now we are teaching them to compete and win games," Miles added.
For a Panthers team a year older and wiser, their first test will come as college football's first on stage.