Who are the four players on Georgia State’s football team that could be breakout stars this season?
This could mean starting from the season-opening game against Charlotte at the Georgia Dome, or earning a starting spot by work in practice and performances in games.
You’ll notice in my forecast that three-fourths of this group play defense. There are several reasons for that: the offense returns almost everyone and the defense, statistically, struggled for the second consecutive year, which means every job will receive extra scrutiny.
Bruce Dukes, cornerback.
After a rough start last year in which Abilene Christian passed for more than 400 yards, Dukes improved mightily as the season progressed to the point that teams usually attacked the other side of Georgia State’s defense.
Dukes finished the season with 62 tackles with a team-leading six passes broken up and one forced fumble.
The big goose egg in his stat line was his lack of interceptions.
Dukes has the strength and athleticism to make the plays. At 5-10, he isn’t the tallest cornerback and last year faced a lot of tall wide receivers, something that will likely happen again this year.
But with another year in the system and a familiarity with the opponents, it’s natural to assume that Dukes should improve and become a play-making cornerback, something the Panthers haven’t had since the program started.
Plus, another year of experience may result in him being able to cover an opposing wide receiver for that extra half-second to second needed for blitzers to reach the quarterback for sacks and hurries.
Jerome Smith, defensive back.
Smith is pushing all the cornerbacks and safeties for playing time and impressed coaches during the spring and continues to impress during the summer workouts.
Smith redshirted last year after being a three-year letterwinner at Mays High School in Atlanta.
The starting corners and safeties are likely: Dukes and Chandon Sullivan at corner, with Tarris Batiste and Bryan Williams at the safeties. However, Smith, Cloves Campbell, Bobby Baker (who is recovering from an injury), Robert Dowling and Nate Simon are creating competition and depth that Georgia State hasn’t had since the program started.
Alonzo McGee, linebacker.
There are several candidates at this position who could become stars by year’s end, but I’m going with McGee because of his pedigree as a transfer from UAB.
Plus, playing at outside linebacker should give him the freedom to make plays.
When McGee lines up on the same side as defensive end MacKendy Cheridor or rush end Michael Shaw, offensive linemen may have decisions to make as to how to take on the possibility of three rushers. And if they have to make decisions, they have to think, and if they have to think they will slow down for that split-second.
McGee had 42 tackles and one sack last year for UAB, where he played mostly inside.
The rest of the group seems likely to line up like this: McGee on the strong side, Kaleb Ringer on the inside and Joseph Peterson on the weakside.
Peterson and Ringer are sure tacklers, which will also McGee some freedom to take a chance, if the play call allows for it.
Kendrick Dorn, running back.
Georgia State’s leading rusher last year, Marcus Caffey, didn’t top 400 yards.
There are lots of reasons that total was so low: two running backs were lost after the fourth game to season-ending injuries. Marcus Caffey, the leader with 354 yards, moved from cornerback to running back before the fifth game. Lastly, the team was often playing from behind, which reduces the opportunities to run the ball.
This year’s squad returns 3/5 of the offensive line, almost all of the wide receivers, all of the tight ends and the quarterback, Nick Arbuckle. If opponents don’t try to defend the pass first, well…
So, that should open things up for the running game and Dorn could benefit.
Kyler Neal, who played well last year before suffering a knee injury at Washington is back with his battering-ram style.
Caffey is back and also proved himself capable, if he can hold onto the ball, which was a problem last year.
Dorn transferred in after rushing for more than 1,000 yards at San Bernardino Valley Community College in California.
He is fast and can catch the ball, with 10 receptions for 80 yards last year.