San Jose State and Georgia State meet in the inaugural Cure Bowl, which is being played at Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Florida on December 19. Georgia State will be making its first postseason appearance, while the Spartans will be playing in just their third bowl game in the last twenty years. Interestingly, San Jose State was one of only three schools to have received a bowl berth despite having a losing record on the season. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ entered the 2015 season having never defeated an FBS opponent so their arrival in Orlando for the Cure Bowl comes as a huge surprise.
Georgia State’s Path to Postseason Play:
In April of 2008, Georgia State University officially started a football program and, in February, 2009, the Panthers signed their first recruiting class. Nearly three years later (2012), the Panthers played one season in the Colonial Athletic Conference before accepting an unplanned invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference.
Georgia State finished 1-10 in the Colonial with nine of its 10 losses coming by 22 points or more (outgained 504-290). After enduring a winless season in 2013, the Panthers secured their first win against an FCS opponent (Abilene Christian) to snap a sixteen-game losing streak. Georgia State finished its second year in the Sun Belt Conference with an abysmal 1-11 record.
Despite its record last season, Georgia State played significantly better than one would expect. The Panthers suffered major attrition at running back, linebacker and in their defensive back due to never-ending injuries, yet Georgia State played in five games that were decided by ten points or less. And, despite two players leaving the team – leaving Georgia State with only 69 scholarship players and fourteen seniors – the Panthers lost to two eventual bowl teams (UL-Lafayette and South Alabama) by three points each.
I was optimistic about Georgia State’s football program entering the 2015 season based, in large part, on head coach Trent Miles, who oversaw an impressive rebuild at Indiana State before arriving in Atlanta. Miles returned seventeen starters, signed 17 transfers during the offseason and had one of the most underrated quarterbacks in Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle finished last year with 3,283 passing yards (60.4%) and was named SBC Newcomer of the Year for his effort. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski says that Arbuckle “thinks like a coach, plans like a coach brings leadership to the offense.” Just how good was Arbuckle last season? He led the conference in passing yards and ranked 15th in the FBS in yards per game (273.6).
Georgia State is loaded with experience. The Panthers returned two quarterbacks with starting experience, its top two receivers, a dynamic tight end, seven offensive linemen with starting experience, every defensive lineman, seven of nine linebackers who averaged at least one tackle per game, every defensive back and an elite place kicker.
The Panthers also raided UAB’s football program by signing six transfers, including senior safety Bobby Baker, senior wideout Nyiakki Height, junior linebacker Alonzo McGee and running back Demarcus Kirk, many of whom paid immediate dividends this year. I have no doubt that Georgia State will be fired up for tonight’s Cure Bowl.
Georgia State’s Offense:
Georgia State its averaging 27.8 points per game and 450 total yards at 6.3 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 6.0 yards per play to a mediocre offensive squad. I was most impressed with the fact that the Panthers were 4-2 SU and 6-0 ATS on the road this season where they averaged 33.7 points and 513 total yards per game at 6.8 yards per play.
The Panthers’ offense is led by quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who threw for 4,160 yards at 9.1 yards per pass attempt this season (64.1%; 26/11). Arbuckle finished the season with seven straight games in which he threw for over 300 yards, including two games in which he compiled over 400 yards through the air.
Overall, Georgia State’s offense is 1.1 yards per pass play better than average, which is good enough to exploit a mediocre San Jose State secondary that is 0.2 yards per pass play better than average (6.4 yards per pass attempt to teams that would combine to average 6.6 yards per pass attempt. The Panthers possess a solid 0.6 yards per play advantage offensively from the line of scrimmage over San Jose State’s stop unit so I expect Arbuckle & Co. to have a big day in Orlando.
That advantage does not take into account the fact that the Spartans’ defense struggled away from home this season, allowing 32.3 points and 410 total yards per game at 5.8 yards per play. San Jose State’s stop unit also limped to the finish line, giving up 33.3 points and 440 total yards at 6.4 yards per play over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Georgia State’s Defense:
Entering this season, Georgia State’s weakness was believed to be its defense. However, the Panthers’ stop unit turned the script on the pundits by allowing 5.4 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yards per play. The Panthers’ were 0.5 yards per rush attempt and 0.5 yards per pass attempt better than average from the line of scrimmage, which is good enough to contain a pedestrian San Jose State attack. The Spartans averaged 5.9 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.9 yards per play so Georgia State’s stop unit should control the line of scrimmage in this game.
I was even more impressed with how Georgia State’s defense acquitted itself in the final three games of the season where it limited foes to a mere 12.7 points and 287 total yards at 4.3 yards per play and 22.7 yards per point. The most dominating performance came in the season finale wherein it held a potent Georgia Southern attack to just seven points on 203 total yards. The Panthers won the game 34-7 as 21-point road underdogs and enter the Cure Bowl having won and covered four straight. In contrast, San Jose State enters postseason play having lost three of its final four games and hasn’t played since November 27.
From a technical standpoint, Georgia State is 5-0 ATS in its last five games off a win, 6-0-1 ATS in its last seven overall and 8-3 ATS in its last eleven non-conference affairs. Let’s also note that college bowl favorites with three or fewer wins the previous year are just 12-23 ATS (San Jose State), whereas bowl underdogs with three or fewer wins the prior season are 19-7 ATS (Georgia State). Finally, my math model actually favors Georgia State so the wrong team is favored in this contest. Grab the generous points in the Cure Bowl and invest with confidence.
Oskeim Sports’ Cure Bowl Winner: Georgia State (+)