Georgia State football enters their bye week at an interesting time this season. In 2010, the Panthers played 10 straight weeks and took their bye prior to facing defending BCS champ Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This year's team has been ravaged by injuries (losing a total of 14 players for at least one game who either started/contributed in 2010) and self inflicted wounds (both QB Kelton Hill and Drew Little were suspended to start the year), contributing to a 1-3 start.
There seem to be more questions than answers at this point, but for Panther fans, there still should be hope. We will address the questions and give some predictions on the final seven games of the season.
How has the team fared vs. FCS competition? Georgia State holds a 5-5 all-time record vs. Division 1-AA, including an 0-2 mark this year to Old Dominion and No. 15 Jacksonville State. The Panthers have five games remaining this year vs. FCS opponents, starting next Saturday vs. Murray State. I believe that a 3-2 mark would be the expectation against teams in the same classification.
What is this team's identity on offense? Coach Curry spoke often in the preseason about a faster tempo and a quicker-paced offense. It has not been the case so far, as the Panthers are only averaging 63.5 offensive plays this year (up only two plays per game vs. 2010). The team has already punted 31 times this year and Panthers fans are ready to see a consistent attack.
Who seizes the quarterback position? 2010 starter Drew Little has a 6-6 career record as a starter. Bo Schlechter is 1-2 as starter this season. Kelton Hill has yet to start a game but has seen game action in 12 total games. The coaching staff wanted to evaluate Little and Hill against Houston, and neither showed consistent play, but it may be hard to gather a true sample size vs. FBS competition. Little shows the most ability to lead, but does the coaching staff trust him?
Will this team ever stop the run? In the 15 games Georgia State has played football, the 3-4 defense employed by defensive coordinator John Thompson has been gashed to a tune of 193 yards per game (209.8 yards per game thus far in 2011). The scheme relies on the defensive line to occupy the opposing offensive lines and allow linebackers to maintain their gaps. That simply has not happend. The Panthers start a smaller, quicker defensive front seven with a combined weight of only 1,679 pounds (which is 54 pounds lighter than the group that took the field in the Panther inaugural game). Coach Curry hired a veteran strength & conditioning coach this summer with the hopes that the team would be bigger, stronger and faster. So far the defense is proving smaller and quicker is not better.
What will be the final record for 2011? I still believe that the Panthers can rally to a 5-2 mark in the next seven games to again finish with a winning record. That seems incredible considering the remaining schedule, but there are many opportunities for wins. Four home games remain, and the Panthers could certainly win three out of the four, as I project Sun Belt-bound South Alabama as the lone loss. Three road games include SC State, West Alabama and first year UTSA, which I project a 2-1 mark as no environment will be more formidable than what the Panthers have already faced.