Jimmy John's Order Now

Grading a decade of Georgia State Football

Georgia State Football teams up against the University of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium for the first game of the season. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Georgia State has officially wrapped up its first decade as football program. In a decade the program has had three head coaches, moved from the FCS to FBS and gets its signature win against Tennessee. 

Let us do some reflection, shall we? 

When Georgia State football began to play in 2010, no one could’ve predicted how fast the program would grow by 2020. During the inaugural season, head coach Bill Curry did not even have all the equipment required to field a team. 

“We didn’t even have a place for practice,” Curry said. “We needed things from footballs to chin straps.”


9/2/2010: Game One

The first game was a success when Georgia State defeated Shorter University 41-7. The Georgia Dome would draw over 30,000 fans for the big event. The Panthers were independent their first season in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the lowest tier of college football programs. Former Georgia State Associate Athletic Director Kosha Irby views the first game as a great experience.

“It felt like being a part of a startup company, and I was proud to be apart of the experience,” Irby said.

The Panthers got an impressive 6-5 in their inaugural season, their first and, for a long time, only winning record until the 2017 season. The following seasons would be full of growing pains as the program would go through many upheavals.

Jimmy John's Order Now
Jimmy John's Order Now


The Challenges

One of the biggest problems that both fans and players agreed on during the season? Their own home stadium. From 2010-2016, the Panthers would play in the Georgia Dome, the former home of the Atlanta Falcons.

Alumni who experienced going to the games, such as Jack Brinson, noted how bad the seating conditions were. Brinson was a superfan who went by the alter ego “Blue Bandit” when attending games.

“Because the dome was so big, many students wouldn’t sit in the student section but in better viewing points, which hurt some of the crowd chants because we were so spread out,” Brinson said.

Former players also shared a similar view of the stadium, such as former team captain  Nathaniel Paxton

“When we played at [the Georgia Dome], we always knew it was the Falcons stadium and not ours,” he said. “It didn’t feel like home.”


New Beginnings

Despite poor end-of-season records early on, the play on the field propelled the program to a consistent rise as a division-1 team. In 2012, the program would enter the Colonial Athletic Association, finding subpar results at best.

After the season ended, Curry would retire from coaching and would leave Georgia State with a 10-23 record from 2010-2012. Trent Miles would replace Curry as head coach and lead the program in a new era.

Georgia State wouldn’t stay in the CAA for long; they left the conference after just one season. The program would make its final move to the Sun Belt Conference in 2012, where it has remained ever since. 

Players who went through the rapid change saw it as vital for the program but also a major adjustment. Former safety Dartez Jacob took note of the growing pains of moving to the FBS quickly.

“It was definitely an adjustment with all the new teams we had to play and the new recruiting class coming in,” Jacobs said. 

Being in the Sun Belt, the program now faced a slew of new challenges, and their lack of facilities wasn’t going to help them. While other Sun Belt teams, such as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, had their own stadiums, the Panthers were still far behind, sharing the Georgia Dome with the Falcons. 


Making Noise and Making Moves

Coach Miles would lead the Panthers to their first bowl appearance in 2015 and was a significant point in the program, especially during that 6-7 (5-3 Sun Belt) season. Despite the record, 2015 would prove to be the start of the program coming into its own. Under Miles, the Panthers were 9-38 but earned the program’s first bowl appearance in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, losing to San Jose State.

But it didn’t stop there.

In addition to the national stage, Georgia State would acquire Turner Field in 2016 after the Atlanta Braves left for Cobb County. Georgia State University President Mark Becker marked the purchase as a game-changer for the program.


The Shawn Elliott Era

In 2017, Georgia State would make their biggest decision to date, hiring Shawn Elliott. Since day one, the former offensive line coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks has brought the school success.

The Panthers won their first bowl game in his first season. After a tough 2018 season (2-10), the Panthers came back strong in 2019 with a program-defining win over Tennessee, one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

Led by senior quarterback Dan Ellington on literally one leg, the Panthers earned a trip to the Arizona Bowl but fell to Wyoming in a year that showed signs of growth. After the game, Coach Elliott highlighted how far Georgia State has come as a football program in his two years so far.

“Four years ago, students wouldn’t make the trip to see Georgia State University, and [The Signal] are here, so I thank you,” Elliott said.


Looking Ahead

While the future looks bright for the program, there are still challenges ahead. One obstacle is gaining the support of an inconsistent fan base. The stadium has a capacity of 24,333, yet the attendance fails to sell out the stadium most of the time.

Part of the issue is that many students do not live on campus and thus miss out on the games through no fault of their own. Current Associate Athletic Director Mike Holmes blames the lack of attendance on a diverse audience.

“We have a very diverse student base and having a diverse base means a lot of diverse interest,” Holmes said.

The other challenge for the program is finding its identity not just in a crowded city but a crowded state. Georgia is seen by many as the capital of college football, housing historic programs such as the University of Georgia in Athens and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Although it has made great strides to be on par with UGA and Georgia Tech, Georgia State still has a long way to go to stand out from the competition.

Georgia State not only should be proud of what they have done in a decade but commended. To build a program from scratch at a commuter school is a victory on its own, and only bright things are ahead for Panther football.