TICKETS: 866-GA-STATE * GeorgiaStateSports.com
ATLANTA--The Georgia State football team opens its third season of play by hosting South Carolina State in a Thursday night game at the Georgia Dome. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m., and the game will be regionally televised on CSS as the Panthers play on the first night of college football in 2012.
Head coach Bill Curry's Panthers would like to kick off their third season, and the final campaign for Curry, the same way they opened years one and two: with a rousing victory in front of a packed house at the Georgia Dome.
In GSU's inaugural season of 2010, the Panthers defeated Shorter, 41-7, before a crowd of 30, 237 on Thursday, Sept. 2. Last year's opener ended in the same 41-7 score as GSU downed Clark Atlanta before 26,273 on Friday, Sept. 2.
But the Panthers face difficult a much different challenge in their 2012 opener against a very strong South Carolina State program that defeated the Panthers last year while posting a 7-4 record.
For the third time in three seasons, the Panthers will start a quarterback who will be under center in a collegiate game for the first time. Redshirt freshman Ben McLane from Snellville, Ga., takes the reins after earning the job in spring practice. Although he is playing his first game for Georgia State, he is no stranger to the Georgia Dome. In fact, his last competitive game also took place in this venue when he led Brookwood High School to the 2010 Class AAAAA state title with a 52-38 victory over Colquitt County.
Behind McLane is junior Kelton Hill, who started the final five games of 2011, passing for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 609 yards and four scores.
Georgia State returns six starters on offense, led by running back Donald Russell and wide receiver Albert Wilson, and four on defense as the Panthers look to improve upon last year's 3-8 record, which followed a 6-5 mark in the inaugural season of 2010.
On the receiving end for the Panthers is the talented trio of juniors Albert Wilson (37 receptions, 772 yards 6 TD), Danny Williams (30-485-3) and Jordan Giles (16-264-4).
The GSU offense also features powerful running back Donald Russell, a senior from West Palm Beach, Fla., who led the Panthers last fall with 665 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
Although inexperienced, Georgia State looks to be much improved on defense under first-year coordinator Anthony Midget. The top returning tacklers are senior safety Demazio Skelton, who had 61 tackles and two interceptions, and junior linebacker Mark Hogan with 56 tackles, five tackles for loss and an interception. Junior cornerback Demarius Matthews had a team-leading nine pass breakups.
Coached by Buddy Pough, South Carolina State has posted 11 consecutive winning seasons, including a 7-4 mark in 2011. The Bulldogs return many of the standouts from last year's 23-13 win over GSU, including quarterback Richard Cue (900 yds passing with 7 TD; 514 yds rushing with 8 TD) and running back Asheton Jordon (774 yds rushing with 5 TD). The Bulldogs are not ranked but are among the others receiving votes in the Preseason FCS Coaches Poll.
Regional television on CSS-TV. Announcers are Bob Neal (play-by-play) and Brian Jordan (analyst).
GSU Radio Network, including Atlanta flagship WCFO-AM Newstalk 1160, as well as WGST-AM 640 and FM 92.3, and WMLB-AM 1690 Announcers are Dave Cohen (play-by-play), Harper LeBel (analyst), and Sam Crenshaw (sideline).
LAST MEETING WITH SOUTH CAROLINA STATE
Georgia State and South Carolina State met for the first time on Oct. 15, 2011, when the Bulldogs earned a 23-13 victory in Orangeburg, S.C.
GSU took a 13-10 lead on Donald Russell's nine-yard touchdown with six minutes left in the third quarter, but SCSU managed 13 unanswered points.
The Panthers set a then-school record with 244 yards rushing, including 94 yards by quarterback Kelton Hill and 85 by Russell.
Quarterback Richard Cue finished 16-for-30 for 213 yards passing, plus 45 yards and two scores on the ground for SCSU. Asheton Jordon added 74 yards rushing.
FINAL SEASON FOR CURRY
Georgia State head coach Bill Curry announced during preseason camp that the 2012 season will be his last on the sideline. Curry was named GSU's first head coach on June 12, 2008 and has guided the program through its infancy. The former head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky is entering his 20th season as a collegiate head coach. He will remain at Georgia State as a special assistant to Director of Athletics Cheryl L. Levick and President Mark Becker.
YEAR ONE OF FBS TRANSITION
Season three of Georgia State football marks another significant milestone for the program as the Panthers begin their two-year transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Sun Belt Conference while playing their first and only season of CAA Football.
The Panthers will play a full CAA schedule this fall but are not eligible for the CAA championship or the FCS playoffs. In 2013, Georgia State will play a full Sun Belt schedule but will not be eligible for the conference title or for postseason bowl games until 2014.
NEW FACES ON DEFENSE
The Georgia State defense under first-year coordinator Anthony Midget has a decidedly young face. The Panthers return just four starters on defense, and there are just four seniors on the entire two-deep. Three true freshmen are expected to play prominent roles, with linebacker Joseph Peterson earning a starting berth and defensive linemen Joe Lockley and Melvin King seeing plenty of action.
Midget, a former All-America defensive back at Virginia Tech, was elevated to coordinator in March. He is an original member of Bill Curry's GSU staff, hired in 2008.
Junior right tackle Grant King, the only returning starter on Georgia State's offensive line, is also the only current player who has started all 22 games in the Panthers' brief history. The Columbia, S.C., native was a member of GSU's first recruiting class in 2009.
Three other Panthers have played in all 22 games: wide receiver Danny Williams, linebacker Akeen Felder and long snapper Scott McQueen.
Georgia State has played 22 games in its history, and sophomore Danny Williams has caught at least one pass in every one of them. After two seasons, he has 84 receptions for 1,134 yards and eight touchdowns, all GSU career records.
Williams led GSU in receptions (54), receiving yards (649) and touchdown catches (5) during the inaugural season of 2010. Last season, he had 30 catches for 485 yards and two scores.
He also owns the Panthers' single-game record for receptions (11 vs. Old Dominion in 2010). He has four of the seven 100-yard games in GSU history.
WILSON EARNS PRESEASON RECOGNITION
Georgia State wide receiver Albert Wilson was tabbed to the preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association second team by Phil Steele's FCS College Football Preview.
The junior from Port St. Lucie, Fla., was also named to the College Football Performance Awards watch lists for top FCS wide receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner.
Wilson was GSU's leading receiver in 2011 with 37 catches for 772 yards (20.9 yds per catch) and six touchdowns in nine games. He ranked eighth in the nation in punt returns (11.9), 20th in receiving yards per game (85.8) and 29th in all-purpose yards (134.4).
The 5-9, 195-pound speedster has career totals of 56 receptions and 1,066 receiving yards, both second in GSU annals, with a career average of 19.0 yards per catch. His eight touchdown catches are tied for the GSU career record, and all eight are 28 yards or longer, including three over 50 yards. Wilson is the Panthers' career leader in all-purpose yards 2,142 yards (112.7 pg).
One of just 10 seniors on this year's roster is Georgia State's top running back, Donald Russell. A transfer from Kentucky, Russell joined the Panthers last season and led the team with 665 yards rushing nine touchdowns. He was voted the team's Most Valuable Player on offense and was named to the FCS Independent All-Conference team by College Sports Madness.
Adding his two seasons at Kentucky, Russell has 1,095 career rushing yards.
SCHEDULE STEPS UP
Georgia State's schedule has toughened considerably in the Panthers' third season. The CAA features six teams ranked 16th or higher in the preseason FCS Coaches' Poll, and GSU will face four of the six.
Georgia State is scheduled to face No. 6 Old Dominion, No. 8 James Madison, No. 12 New Hampshire and No. 16 Maine. No. 9 Towson and No. 14 are not on GSU's schedule.
In addition, tonight's opponent, South Carolina State, and CAA foe William and Mary are among the others receiving votes.