Last year was a disappointing 2016 for the Panthers, finishing 3-9 and brining an end to the Trent Miles era. In 2017 the Panthers have a new head coach in Shawn Elliott.
Elliott, a former South Carolina interim head coach, takes over a program with a lot of positive momentum on the recruiting trail, a new stadium and returning talent at offensive skill positions. The Panthers return their starting quarterback, running back and tight end as well as a top wide receiver in Penny Hart who is returning from injury.
Redshirt senior Conner Manning is the returning starter at quarterback, in 2016 he led the Sun Belt in passing yards per game averaging 268.4 yards. Over 10 games he completed 207 of his 373 pass attempts for 2,685 yards with 16 touchdowns, 13 of which came in Sun Belt games. Manning will have to work on consistency and decision making this season, he finished the 2016 season with 13 interceptions, tied for second worst in conference with former ULL quarterback Anthony Jennings.
Kyler Neal returns for his redshirt senior season after finishing as the team leading rusher from last season. He finished the year with 314 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries. Taz Bateman is returning from an ACL injury he suffered in spring 2016 causing him to miss the season.
Bateman showed potential in 2015 rushing for 251 yards and a touchdown while missing six games during the season through injury. He also added 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Neal and Bateman will have to step up along with the offensive line to improve the run game and provide support for passing game.
Georgia State lost last seasons leading receiver, Robert Davis and his 968 yards with five touchdowns, to the NFL draft. The Panthers also lost tight end Keith Rucker who was the teams second leading receiver with 362 yards and two touchdowns.
Even with those big losses coach Elliott's squad still returns talent in the passing game including tight end Ari Werts and deep threat Jawan Nobles, who averaged 19.9 yards per reception.
The biggest factor in the passing game is Penny Hart returning from injuries that allowed him to only play two halves in 2016, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. In 2015 Hart was standout freshman, finishing the season with 72 catches for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns.
That production earned him 2015 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, first team All-Sun Belt Conference and Freshman All-American honors. Georgia State fans and coaches will be hoping for bounce back season from Hart after the injury struggles for 2016.
All of this talent will still need support from an offensive line that returns four starters but struggled in 2016. Hopefully the freshman that Elliott brought in during his first recruiting class will be able to push veterans in camp to improve.
The Panthers have a lot of potential on the offensive side of the ball and their success this season could lead to good things for a program with a new stadium, new coach and tons of momentum.