ATLANTA -- Nothing prepares you for 0-12. A coach can understand a program is still at the crawl stage. He can know the team was 1-10 the year before, and the student body still hasn't embraced this we-have-a-football-team thing, and the roster has some players with more baggage than, say, leadership potential.
But even Trent Miles, who experienced his first 0-12 season at Indiana State in 2008, had unique moments of torment his second time through the blender at Georgia State last season.
No coach can expect to give up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ... on the opening kickoff of the season. No coach can anticipate Troy amassing 634 yards in total offense in a school's first Sun Belt game, or the Panthers starting 10 different offensive line combinations in 12 weeks (even worse than the Falcons.).
But nothing equals this ...
"Well, when you walk into the locker room and you have a senior who's on the cellphone five minutes before you're supposed to go onto the field before the game, laughing and talking, you know: Maybe it's time to move on," Miles said. "That's not acceptable at this level or any level. You could say I let him know that."
Nobody at Georgia State is going to define the expectation level for this season, in terms of a win total. But it's somewhere north of zero.
Expect ugly results at Washington and Clemson (no worries, the checks will cash). Expect losses to the better teams in the Sun Belt Conference (which must still resemble the NFC West to GSU). But the Panthers just can't have disaster again. No wins would be disaster.
"Throw out Clemson and Washington, the money games," Miles said. "We're in a position to control our outcomes. We're not worrying about how the other team plays.
He talks a good game. He's bold. He invited Penn State coach James Franklin to his football camp this summer, hoping to lure more potential recruits onto campus. The move infuriated SEC coaches, who viewed it as rule-bending (cue: laugh track). SEC rules preclude their coaches from "visiting" distant camps. Miles was amused: "That's their problem."
It worked, brilliantly. Miles said Georgia State got six commitments from the camp and, "Five told me they wouldn't have come to the camp if Penn State wasn't there."
Now begins a new season. Everything resets. Mercifully.
Miles attempted to keep his players' spirits up last year by reassuring them they were getting better and losses were getting closer. But at the end of the day, a player looks at the standings and sees a zero in the left column.
Saturdays just aren't the same without college football. Lucky for you, only 11 days til GSU kicks off. pic.twitter.com/CTLvmQUOJq— GSU Athletics (@GSUPanthers) August 16, 2014
Returning tight end Keith Rucker, whose father played in the NFL, called it "a great learning experience." That sounds so much better than a brick to the head.
"I came from a winning high school," Rucker said. "We went 12-3 and won the state championship my last year. It's harder go through losing seasons because players have to come together."
Even if Georgia State doesn't win big, it doesn't mean players can't act like they belong.
"This is professional," Miles said. "If you're a scholarship football player, you might not be in one of the 'Power 5' [conferences], but only one percent of high school players get a chance to play [FBS] football and one percent of [those] get a chance to play in the NFL. If you're on a scholarship, you're a one-percenter. You're getting paid to do a service.
"I tell them: Act like a pro, dress like a pro, carry yourself like a pro. See yourself that way or you won't be a successful. Because they are that way at Alabama. They are that way at Georgia and Notre Dame and Penn State. I want that mentality here."
Have you run through a wall yet?
The Panthers likely will have a number of new starters, including possibly at quarterback (Nick Arbuckle transferred in from Pierce College in California, where he threw for 66 touchdowns in two seasons). They'll need to be significantly better on both lines and limit turnovers for their best chance to win games because in terms of talent and size they simply don't match up yet. It's still a young team.
"When you take over a program that's new or has a history of losing you have to bring in mentally tough people because things are going to be tough for a few years," Miles said.
In Year 2, it can't get worse.
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