Georgia State football is struggling on the field and at the turnstiles as it continues its warp-drive ascent to college football’s highest level: the FBS, where bowl games are the goal. The team is 0-6 with some fans already wondering if it will be 0-12 next year when the school joins the Sun Belt Conference.
How can the team avoid a similar fate next year in front of similarly small crowds?
Georgia State’s program appears seems to be on solid ground in two key areas. The team practices in a state-of-the-art facility and plays in the Georgia Dome. Student fees support the expense of the football team. There are two ingredients remaining: the shoulders of 17- and 18-year-olds, as well as job vacancy No. 0602767 , the ID for “Head Coach – Football” listed on Georgia State’s jobs requisition website.
Coaching and recruiting are interconnected. Coaches evaluate the talent, recruit the talent and are responsible for developing it. Georgia State’s results the past two season indicate the team hasn’t been strong, or has been unlucky, in those areas.
Georgia State has had 67 high school football players sign since the first Signing Day in 2009. Within that group consistent players like Mark Hogan, Jordan Giles and Danny Williams have emerged. Not including this year’s freshmen class, which haven’t had time to develop, just four players that are still with the team – Terrance Woodard, Albert Wilson, Grant King and Ulrick John – could be considered consistent impact performers, or players that could likely start and play well on another team.
Curry won’t blame the players, saying he believes the next coach will inherit a talented group with a will to win. If they can win this year, they will help the next coach recruit by stressing the positives of the program. Curry blames himself for not helping the players fulfill their potential.
“I can’t say anything differently and I can’t be kind,” he said. “It ought to be better. It ought to be a lot better. If anybody had known the answers about what to do we would have done it.”
Getting an improved class of recruits should improve the chances of winning. Winning more games should improve attendance, which has sunk to its lowest levels in the past two games with less than 10,000 fans showing up to watch losses to Richmond and New Hampshire.
“Any start-up program is recruiting, is getting the players,” said Dan Reeves, who served as a consultant at Georgia State when it was considering starting a football program. “Any good program has great players. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s going to be a good job: there’s an awful lot of athletes here in Georgia.”
Recruiting is an inexact science. Curry has used a mix of high school recruits and transfers in his first four Signing Day classes with mixed success. For every solid recruit like Wilson, there have been un-productive players like end A.J. Portee who transferred in from Connecticut and has since been dismissed from the team for rules violations.
The timing of the move to the Sun Belt is helping recruiting, but it occurred faster than Curry hoped. He said he’d love to have had six more years to build a talent and recruiting base before the school agreed to leave the Colonial Athletic Association, but the opportunity to move up was too good to pass on so they are working to give the next staff as many good players as possible.
“Since the day we’ve got here, we’ve had really good players tell us, ‘If you were FBS, I’d commit to you today,’ he said. “Well, they’re not diving over the fences to jump in the boat right now, but we are getting really good commitments.”
The current coaching staff has secured eight commitments in the 2013 class, including three two-star players, according to Rivals.com’s rankings. Players with two-stars (out of a five-star system) may not seem like difference-makers, but Georgia State’s list is comparable with most the teams from the Sun Belt, which doesn’t have a team with more than five three-star commitments, according to Rivals’ rankings.
Led by quarterback Oshay Carter, all three of Georgia State’s two-star commitments play on offense. The other two, Devonte Washington and Calvain Holmes, are wide receivers.
By comparison, the Panthers had two two-star commitments in the 2012 class, and two in the 2011 class. They also had two three-star commitments and two two-stars in the 2010 class, led by offensive lineman Tim Wynn, defensive back Demarius Matthews and running back Cole Moon. While Wynn and Matthews have become starters, Moon has yet to find a place in the starting lineup. The inaugural class of 2009 was loaded with two-star players and one three-star player who have compiled a 9-19 win-loss record, including this year’s 0-6 mark.
The next coaching staff will have more scholarships to work with as they build the talent base. The Panthers are using 68 scholarships this year and will go up to 85 next year. That increase, combined with seniors using up eligibility, will give the next staff a lot of chances to stock the roster.
Old Dominion is in a similar situation as Georgia State. It is leaving the CAA for Conference USA. However, where Georgia State has struggled in recruiting the Monarchs have succeeded, making the playoffs last year. The team is undefeated this year and its 22 starters on offense and defense feature just three transfers. The rest were high school signees. Of all of the high school signees, less than were five three-star recruits, several more were two-star recruits and the majority were unrated.
ODU coach Bobby Wilder said the key to continuing that success as an FBS team will be to continue to recruit well.
“You need to have good football players if you are going to be a good football team,” he said. “The coaching is pretty consistent when you get to this level of competition, whether it’s the CAA or Conference USA. It’s going to be quality coaching so you aren’t going to outsmart a lot of people, you need to be a program that recruits a lot of really good student-athletes.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu