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Georgia State Panthers 2016 preview

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Expectations for Trent Miles and the Panthers in 2016.

NCAA Football: AutoNation Cure Bowl-San Jose State vs Georgia State Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In their first two seasons competing at the FBS level Georgia State went a combined 1-23. So yeah, last season’s 6-7 record was cause for excitement in and around the program. Coming into their 4th season in the FBS, Georgia State is no longer trying to “break ground”, the Panthers are building onto their foundation.

Offense:

Returning Starters: 8

Georgia State is tasked with replacing a fundamental piece of their turnaround in quarterback Nick Arbuckle. The competition appears to have boiled down to Aaron Winchester (RFr) and Utah transfer Connor Manning (RJr). I expect Winchester to win the job, as does the aforementioned Nick Arbuckle who tweeted his belief in Winchester (@AWUno1).

I know a spring game is not the most reliable source in regards to a player’s ability, however, Winchester clearly ran the offense more effectively than Connor Manning. Winchester finished the day with two touchdowns through the air and one on the ground, albeit throwing two interceptions.

Games are won in the trenches and Georgia State’s offensive line is one of the best in the Sun Belt. The Panthers return four starters on the offensive line in Michael Ivory (LG), Gabe Mobley (C), Alex Stoehr (RG), and Sebastian Willer (RT). Expect to see an improved rushing attack from the Panthers this season. Offensive coordinator Luke Huard will use his trio of running backs (Glenn Smith, Kyler Neal, Demarcus Kirk) to take pressure off of either Aaron Winchester or Connor Manning.

For the past three seasons Georgia State’s rushing attack has been practically nonexistent, averaging 98.50 yards a game over that span.

Georgia State has never had any consistency at running back. In their 3 seasons at the FBS level the Panthers have had 3 different leading rushers. With Smith, Neal, and Kirk all back in place the running game should be a strong point of the team this year.

Not to be outdone, Georgia State’s receiving core is loaded. Penny Hart, Robert Davis, and tight-end Keith Rucker each earned preseason all-Sun Belt recognition. Last season the trio accounted for 171 receptions, 2,601 yards, and 20 touchdowns.

Penny Hart, the Sun Belt freshman of the year in 2015, gained 10 pounds over the off-season weighing in at 180 now. Hart looks noticeably thicker; this added muscle will help him remain healthy and become more explosive.

Defense:

Returning Starters: 9

2015 was a breakthrough year for the Georgia State defense. The Panthers finished 4th in the Sun Belt in total defense at 405.6 yards per game, and 3rd in the Sun Belt in scoring defense at 28.6 ppg. That is a huge improvement from 2014 where Georgia State finished 11th in the Sun Belt in total defense at 497.1 yards per game, and 11th in the Sun Belt in scoring defense at 43.3 ppg.

Losing Joseph Peterson and Tarris Batiste will hurt the Panthers as the two combined for 216 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 interceptions a season ago. However, Georgia State returns every other member of the 2015 defense. There will be no shortage of talent, or experience on the field for the Panthers this season.

GSU has depth and experience along the defensive line however they must do a better job of getting after the quarterback in 2016. The Panthers only had 18 sacks as a team last season. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter must come up with ways to pressure the quarterback.

The Panthers have sound leadership on defense, including senior safety Bobby Baker, who was selected to the preseason Jim Thorpe award watch list. As well as senior defensive end, Shawayne Lawrence.

Schedule/key games:

Key games will be marked with an asterisk (*)

9/2 vs Ball State: W, Georgia State thumped the Cardinals 31-19 last season. I don’t expect to put up as many points against them this season, but I do think the Panthers beat them again.

9/10 @ Air Force: L, this will be a good test for GSU. Air force went 8-6 last year and academy teams always bring it.

9/17 @ Wisconsin: L, I don’t think this one takes much explaining.

9/24 bye week

10/1 @ Appalachian State: L, App State put it on the Panthers last year 37-3. I expect it to be a closer game this season but GSU isn’t there yet. App State also returns 15 starters from that team a season ago.

*10/8 vs Texas State: W, GSU beat Texas State 41-19 last season, and the Bobcats only return 9 starters from that abysmal 2015 team. This is a key game because GSU will likely be coming off of a 3 game losing skid. The Panthers need a tune up heading into the ladder half of their schedule.

10/15 @ Troy: W, I think this will be a close game, Troy went 4-8 last season, however, they were a couple of possessions away from a 6-6 season. Troy also returns 15 starters.

10/22 vs UT Martin (HC): W, after losing on homecoming to an FCS team last year, I expect Trent Miles to have the Panthers ready to go for this one.

*10/29 @ South Alabama: W, South Alabama is never a pushover. GSU must come prepared, especially on the road.

***11/3 vs Arkansas State: Before I give my prediction, its important to note that Arkansas State lost their top passer (Fredi Knighten), rusher (Michael Gordon), and receiver (Tres Houston) from 2015. Also Arkansas State only beat GSU 48-34 last season. L. However, I think that GSU has a shot to beat the Red Wolves at home.

11/12 vs ULM: W, ULM is in bad shape after going 2-11 last season.

*11/19 vs Georgia Southern: My head says: L, this is hard for me to admit, but, Georgia Southern will beat Georgia State this year. In 2015 the Panthers embarrassed Georgia Southern 34-7, and I do not believe it will go unanswered. My heart says: W, the Panthers steam roll Georgia Southern once again!!

11/26 bye week:

12/3 @ Idaho: W, Idaho is slowly deteriorating, while Georgia State is continuing to grow.

Projected record: 7-5, (5-3).

Team MVP:

S Bobby Baker (Sr)

Offensive POY:

WR Robert Davis (Sr)

Defensive POY:

S Bobby Baker (Sr)

Breakout Player:

HB Kyler Neal (Jr)