The players thought they were going to get to a bowl game last season. The team did enough to earn an invitation, going 6-6. Just like Georgia State, which needed to win its final regular season game to clinch that necessary sixth win, the Blazers defeated Southern Miss to become bowl eligible in their final game.
But there were too many teams with more wins ahead of them in Conference USA, freezing them out of one the bowl spots. Because it had already been announced that the football program was going to be disbanded at season’s end, no bowl was interested in the Blazers as an at-large team.
“We felt like we deserved the right to play that extra game,” wide receiver Nyiakki Height said. “It did not work out.”
The players didn’t even watch the bowl selection show. Safety Bobby Baker said he went home to California. Running back DeMarcus Kirk was recovering from surgery after his appendix burst.
They, along with teammates linebacker Alonzo McGee, offensive line Kelepi Folau and cornerback DeMarco Davis transferred to Georgia State. Davis is no longer on the team.
The odds seemed long that they would get another chance to become bowl eligible after the team dropped consecutive games to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State to fall to 2-6 on the season. But the Panthers won their final four games, capped by the 34-7 win over the Eagles, to give every player on the team their first chance to go to a bowl.
Most of the former Blazers became impact players at Georgia State. McGee was named all-Sun Belt Conference second team on Wednesday. Baker made it onto the conference’s newcomer team. Kirk shored up a running game that was hurt by injuries. Folau worked his way into the rotation on the offensive line.
“Really, we are happy about what we have now,” Baker said. “Now we have that opportunity and I know we plan on taking advantage of it. I feel like we have some pay back to do.”