Start Time: Thursday, August 31st, 7pm EST
Announcers: Matt Stewart and Wayne Gandy
Location: Georgia State Stadium
Series: First ever meeting
Odds: Georgia State (-15.5)
Georgia State Outlook
It’s a new day in Atlanta as Shawn Elliott coaches his first game at Georgia State as the Panthers will open the season in the newly renovated Georgia State Stadium. The hype is real on the Georgia State campus and the new 25,000 seat facility located downtown will be very close to a sellout on Thursday night. There is a legit excitement surrounding this young program for perhaps the first time ever and it’s essential that the Panthers get off to a fast start in 2017.
On offense, Travis Trickett takes over the play-calling duties after spending the last two seasons in Boca Raton calling plays for Florida Atlantic. Under Trickett, FAU was very good on the ground last season as the Owls put up 188 yards per game at nearly a five yard per carry clip. Meanwhile, Georgia has not averaged triple-digits in the running game since 2013. Against FCS competition, it will be essential for the Panthers to get this running game going early.
At quarterback, Conner Manning returns for his senior season and expectations are high for the former Utah transfer. Elliott wants Manning to become a better decision maker this season and that will start under the lights on Thursday. The emergence of wide receiver Penny Hart back in the lineup should help with that.
Hart missed most of last season with a broken foot after tearing up the Sun Belt as a freshman in 2015. The connection between Manning and Hart could become the most lethal one in the Fun Belt. With this playmaking ability outside, the hope is that Georgia State can return to their pass numbers of 2015 when they tossed for 336 yards per game.
Nate Fuqua takes over the defense in Atlanta and the Panthers will be running a 3-4 scheme this fall. Fuqua has the benefit of a loaded secondary and they’ll be this unit’s strength. The corner tandem of Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan may be the best in the G5. The two combined for four interceptions last season. Meanwhile, Georgia State has pair of upperclassmen at safety in junior college transfer DeAndre Applin and Bryan Williams. This is a strong unit.
In the front seven, the group will be led by senior defensive end Mackendy Cheridor. Cheridor should leave Atlanta as the program’s all-time leader in tackles for loss and sacks. At the second level, Trey Payne and Michael Shaw are a nice duo as they are the team’s top two returning tacklers from last season.
As a redshirt sophomore, Brandon Wright will taking over both the kicking and punting duties. Last season, Wright was the starting punter and averaged right under 40 yards per punt while blasting 12 touchbacks on 45 kickoff attempts.
Tennessee State Outlook
The Tennessee State program is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference and is coming off of a 7-4 season in 2016. Rod Reed is heading into his eighth season as the head coach at his alma mater in Nashville. Under Reed’s guidance, the Tigers have only reached the FCS playoffs once and that was back in 2013. Under Reed, TSU is 22-30 in conference play. The Tigers have played three Power Five opponents since 2006 and have lost each game by an average score of 45-17.
Florida transfer Treon Harris was named the starting quarterback for TSU during fall camp and he’ll give the Tigers a legit dual-threat behind center. Harris only posted mediocre stats in Gainesville, but he did record 15 starts under both Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. Harris will have a legit weapon in FCS preseason All-American Patrick Smith at wide receiver. Smith had nearly 1,000 yards receiving last season and pulled in 13 touchdowns. Seeing him going against the corner tandem of Smith and Sullivan will be fun to watch.
The defense will be led by former Clemson defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko. The Brooklyn native was named to some preseason FCS All-American teams after posting 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last fall. GSU tackles Hunter Atkinson and Sebastian Willer will be tested early and often by Ogundeko. Leading tackler Chris Collins returns at linebacker after being a member of the All-OVC second team last fall. Collins was dynamic in run support as he posted eight non-sacks tackles for loss in 2016.
It’s an exciting time in Atlanta and it’s time for Georgia State to take care of business. Tennessee State presents some unique challenges in this contest and I suspect this will be a close game for awhile. TSU has some obvious talent, but once the Panthers adjust they will pull away in the second half. The passing game will be the difference as Penny Hart collects over 150 yards receiving.
Prediction: Georgia State 33, Tennessee State 17