In the rear view mirror: A reflection of the Panthers season

This was originally published in The Signal on December 7, 2016.

In the rear view mirror: A reflection of the Panthers season
December 7, 2016 Woody Bass

Georgia State football entered the 2016 season wanting to build off the momentum of a historic 2015 season. The Panthers had three very specific goals in mind as they opened this season.

Go Bowling again
They wanted more. The Panthers caught a taste of what it is like to play in a bowl game and set out this season to experience it again and again. That meant the team had to at least match their 6-6 regular season record from a season ago. In the preseason many experts predicted that Panthers returned enough talent this season to repeat such a feat.

The Panthers opened the season with quite a gauntlet of games to open the season starting with a home game versus Ball State and then they would hit the road for three consecutive games at Air Force, at Wisconsin and then a conference matchup against Appalachian State. Georgia State nearly knocked off the Badgers in what would have been the greatest win in program history.

Senior Wide receiver Robert Davis knows how close they came to adding to the Sun Belts “giant killer” reputation.

“In a situation where you’ve got a chance to shock the world and come that close and have it slip out of your hands when you have a lead in the fourth quarter, that adds a little bit more pain to it.”

The Panthers would start the season 0-4 after that brutal road schedule but hopes of a bowl game take a hit but still in their sights. A win against Texas State was just what the doctor ordered to get the Panthers back on their bowl game track with the first win of the season and just five more needed to reach their goal.

The Panthers would add to their win column with games against UT Martin for homecoming and in their heated rivalry with Georgia Southern. Unfortunately, they would fall short by three wins finishing the season with losses to Troy, South Alabama, Arkansas State, UL-Monroe and Idaho.

Win the Sun Belt
At Sun Belt Media Day in New Orleans, former Head Coach Trent Miles added another lofty goal to the Panthers laundry list. Compete for and win the Sun Belt. Ask any coach of any conference and he will tell you just how daunting of a task that is. To win the Sun Belt outright this season, that would mean a nearly perfect run in conference play, which no team accomplished in 2016. Appalachian State and Arkansas State would each finish with a share of the conference title with a 7-1 record in conference play.

In order for the Panthers to contend for a share of the title, they would have needed a minimum of 5 wins over Appalachian State, Troy, South Alabama, Arkansas State, UL-Monroe or Idaho. Only one of those teams, UL-Monroe, was the only team not bowl eligible to finish the season.

Be the best defense in the Sun Belt
To say the player’s confidence was at an all-time high after improvement on Panthers defense a season ago would be a serious understatement. So much so that it led senior safety Bobby Baker to declare that the Panthers are and would be the best defense in the Sun Belt.

According to NCAA statistics, Georgia State, third or better in the conference in five defensive categories – Defensive Touchdowns, Passes Intercepted, Passing Yards Allowed, Red Zone Defense, and Team Passing Efficiency Defense. They ranked first in Defensive Touchdowns and Team Passing Efficiency Defense. Appalachian State and Troy ranked third or better in eleven defensive categories followed by Idaho with ten.

It is not always fair to judge a team, much less an entire defense, based solely on statistics to determine how successful they were. If you saw the Panthers games this year, you witnessed some of the bad situations the defense was placed into with 15 interceptions by Conner Manning and Aaron Winchester and the numerous stumbles by special teams. This defense could have easily dominated the conference and fulfilled Baker’s preseason goal. Nevertheless, the results are the results, and the defense fell just short checking this off their list.

The Low
This wasn’t exactly the season the Panthers envisioned, and there a few low point’s fans will recall vividly. However, when Trent Miles was fired as head coach is the low that point of the season. Someone losing their job is nothing that should ever be celebrated unless you are a tyrannical political figure. When Miles came to Georgia State, he took over a program lacking in facilities and talent that made a decision to make the jump to compete in Division 1 FBS in his first season. During his tenure Georgia State built a practice facility, secured the rights to transform Turner Field into a football stadium, led the team to a 6 win season and a trip to the Cure Bowl, and recruited talent like Robert Davis, Penny Hart, Nick Arbuckle, Joseph Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, Jerome Smith, and Wil Lutz.

The High
The Panthers may have fell short of their big goals this year, but any time you can beat and take a series lead against your hated rival is a great day to be a Panther. Trash talk between rival factions is a 365 day affair and 2016 was no different. This is a great rivalry in the making between Georgia Southern and Georgia State. The win over the Eagles was just what the seniors needed and deserved after a mostly disappointing season and now the Panthers will have two years straight of bragging rights over that team down south. That is always a good thing.

What to look forward to
The Panthers may have fell short of their big goals this year, but any time you can beat and take a series lead against your hated rival is a great day to be a Panther. Trash talk between rival factions is a 365 day affair and 2016 was no different. This is a great rivalry in the making between Georgia Southern and Georgia State. The win over the Eagles was just what the seniors needed and deserved after a mostly disappointing season and now the Panthers will have two years straight of bragging rights over that team down south. That is always a good thing.

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