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Georgia State Panthers football set to make history in 2016?

Trent Miles and the Panthers will surprise some folks in the Sun Belt this season.

Georgia Southern v Georgia State Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Coming into their seventh season as a program, Georgia State has an opportunity to make history yet again. In 2015 the Panthers made their first bowl game appearance in program history. Can head coach Trent Miles lead the Panthers to their first winning season at the FBS level? Let’s take a look.

Bad News is...

Coach Miles will have to retool his offense after losing quarterback Nick Arbuckle. Last season, Arbuckle and the Panthers ranked 1st in the Sun Belt in passing offense. Replacing starters is never easy but replacing a starting quarterback is even more difficult.

Georgia State also lost its top tackler in Joseph Peterson and its top defensive back in Tarris Batiste.

Good News is...

Georgia State had 5 players selected to preseason all-Sun Belt teams, Robert Davis WR (1st team), Penny Hart WR (1st Team), Bobby Baker S (1st Team), Keith Rucker TE (2nd Team), and Shawayne Lawrence DE (2nd Team).

The Panthers bring back 16 starters from a season ago, including 9 on defense, and 4 of their 5 offensive lineman.

Trent Miles has the depth and experience in the trenches needed to compete with the upper echelon teams in the conference. The Panthers should finally be able to improve their rushing attack, which finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt in rushing for the past three seasons. I expect to see a running back-by-committee approach featuring, Glenn Smith, Kyler Neal, and Demarcus Kirk

At quarterback Miles will have to decide between Aaron Winchester (RFr), Emiere Scaife (RSo), and Conner Manning (Grad Transfer). Whomever gets the start will have some help from one of the top WR duos in the country in Robert Davis and Penny Hart.

Georgia State’s success as a team is tied directly to their success defensively as the Panthers must continue to improve on that side of the ball. For instance, in 2013 (Trent Miles’ first year as head coach) when the Sun Belt only had 8 teams, the Panthers ranked 7th in total defense, and they finished 8th overall in the conference. In 2014 the Sun Belt expanded to eleven teams; Georgia State ranked 11th in total defense and finished 11th overall in the conference. In 2015 Georgia State finished 4th overall in the Sun Belt. Where’d they rank in total defense? You guessed it, 4th.

With 9 starters returning, I expect the Panthers to improve on defense again this season.

If defense really does win championships, Georgia State has a shot at the Sun Belt this year.