Today’s football game at Maine marks the final game as a Panther for seniors such as Emmanuel Ogbuehi and Roosevelt Watson, who have been with the program since the first practice in 2009. It also marks the end of the Bill Curry era, the man who was named the program’s first head coach in 2008 and has helped the program grow through nearly three seasons of existence.
Georgia State football was once considered an improbability, as many felt that there would be little to no chance that a team could generate the interest necessary to be successful in a state with programs such as Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, which have all achieved some national success.
As supporters pushed for students, alumni, and faculty to get on board with the idea, it finally went from a survey in 2006 to gauge the interest in a program, to its inception on April 17, 2008, when Curry was announced as the program’s first head coach. While the team’s first game wasn’t until Sept. 2, 2010, the buzz surrounding the program was sustained for the two-year wait, with ESPN even featuring the program in an online mini-series and also on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. With national attention given to the program before its first game and also a matchup against the defending national champions and Curry’s former team, Alabama, in its inaugural year, the optimism and excitement about Georgia State football was skyrocketing.
The Panthers’ first game against Shorter drew a crowd of more than 30,000, which still remains the program’s highest attended game. Despite losing the season finale in Tuscaloosa, GSU finished with a 6-5 record, with the bulk of those wins coming against lower-level FCS programs.
State upped its competition for the 2011 season and unfortunately the losses began piling up for the inexperienced Panthers, who finished with a 3-8 record. Another glaring issue for the program was the monumental drop in attendance. Athletics director Cheryl Levick and others associated with the program looked for ways to generate new interest in a program that had seemingly vanished from its peak in the inaugural season.
The school announced on April 9, 2012 that it would be moving from FCS to FBS and joining the Sun Belt Conference begin- ning with the 2013 season. As the 2012 season began, the hope from the leaders of the program was that the news that the Division I-A opponents would generate new interest, but as the losses continued to pile up, the attendance numbers continued to dwindle. There is a feeling amongst the fan base that the program may be in serious jeopardy with the low attendance numbers and lack of funding.
As Curry prepares to coach his final game in the Georgia Dome, the questions surrounding the program’s future are unavoidable. A new voice will be leading the Panthers next season as they make the jump to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference, and while it still may take a few years to bring the team to prominence within the conference and nationally, there are those who still believe that a team at Georgia State University can be successful.
Unfortunately, there may be several difficult seasons ahead as the new coaching staff looks to build a winning program. One positive for the program ahead is the big non-conference schedule that includes a trip back to Tuscaloosa and also trips to West Virginia and Oregon. These games not only bring national relevance to the team, but also bring in significant revenue that the program desperately needs.
Patience must be preached to the doubters who don’t believe that this team can succeed and that despite a few more seasons of struggle and development loom, optimism should still be present. If the team’s many remaining supporters can stay patient and not give up on the program that some have unfortunately written off, there is still plenty of reason to believe in Georgia State football.