In Coach Shawn Elliott’s first at the helm, Georgia State improved from a 3-win season to a bowl campaign in a 7-win season. Some notable losses from graduation will need to be replaced quickly if the team seeks to make consecutive bowl trips for the first time in the program’s short history.
Starters Returning: 7
Biggest Loss: QB Connor Manning
Best Player: WR Penny Hart
The Good News
The offensive line returns four starters from a unit that surrendered only 25 sacks on the season. The left side will be anchored by All-SBC members Hunter Atkinson and Shamarious Gilmore, while the interior is manned by C Jamal Paxton and RG Gabe Mobley. They combined for 45 starts last year, with G Lucas Johnson and a host of experienced underclassmen in reserve. The receiving corps returns mostly intact, headlined by All-Everything WR Penny Hart (74 catches, 1,121 yards, 8 TDs), and the addition of South Carolina transfer Christian Owens.
The Bad News
The backfield lost two-year starting QB Conner Manning (3,146 yards, 14 TDs) and top RBs Glenn Smith (170 rushes, 594 yards, 47 catches, 377 yards, 4 total TDs) and Kyler Neal (66 rushes, 198 yards, 11 catches, 120 yards, 5 total TDs). The quarterback battle is still unresolved, and a running back-by-committee approach is looking likely.
Key To Success
Quarterback play dictates success in college football, and it will decide how the Panthers do in 2018. QB transfer Dan Ellington is coming to GSU from Itawumba CC. He showed up in the spring game, throwing only three incompletions en route to a four TD day. While the starting quarterback has not been picked, I see Ellington winning out the battle. He has talented receivers to get the ball to and an experienced line to protect him. If the Panthers want to go bowling in 2018, they’ll need Ellington to come through.
Starters Returning: 5
Biggest Loss: NG Julien Laurent
Best Player: LB Michael Shaw
The Good News
The linebacking corps loses stud LB Trey Payne (67 tackles, 2 sacks) and LB James Traylor (41 tackles, 1 sack), but return a bevy of guys to take their place. Ed Curney (41 tackles), Chase Middleton (65 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Victor Heyward (38 tackles, 3 sacks) and Trajon Stephens-McQueen (38 tackles) will all look for playing time along All-SBC stud LB Michael Shaw (57 tackles, 1.5 sacks). The defensive line brings back DE Marterious Allen and Terry Thomas to attack the backfield (5.5 sacks combined), and three-year starter CB Jerome Smith (38 tackles, 1 INT) returns to the secondary.
The Bad News
The rest of the secondary is gone. S Deandre Aplin (46 tackles, 1 INT) returns with a couple of starts under his belt, but that’s it. CBs Ben Hood and Cedric Stone have experience as reserves and will look to fill in at the CB2 spot, while S Remy Lazarus looks to be the top option at his position with a bevy of freshman and redshirts backing the safety position up. Run-stuffing two-year starter NG Julien Laurent (24 tackles) will also need to be replaced on the interior of a line that allowed 4.1 yards per rush attempt.
Thu 8/30 vs Kennesaw St (FCS)
Sat 9/8 @ NC State
Fri 9/14 @ Memphis
Sat 9/22 vs Western Michigan
Sat 9/29 vs ULM
Thu 10/4 @ Troy
Thu 10/18 @ Arkansas St
Sat 10/27 vs Coastal Carolina
Sat 11/3 vs Texas St
Sat 11/10 @ Louisiana
Sat 11/17 @ App State
Sat 11/24 vs Ga Southern
The schedule doesn’t start easy with FCS quarterfinalist Kennesaw State coming to Atlanta. Immediate trips to NC State and Memphis are followed by a home date with the Broncos. If the Panthers don’t take care of business early, they could easily be looking at an 0-4 start before conference play. The conference slate is about as bad as you could ask -- just road dates against the toughest teams in the conference, ULM coming to town to sling the ball all over the yard, and a rebuilt Ga Southern team going back to the option to close the season out in rivalry week.
The season will be a success if…
The Panthers go bowling again. Six wins is do-able if you take care of Kennesaw State (it’s not a given after last year’s Tennessee State debacle) and take care of business at home. Find a way to steal a road game and Shawn Elliott will have his team playing in December again.
The season will be a disappointment if…
The QB situation never gets solved and the team gets swept on the road. Ellington looks like the real deal, and Aaron Winchester isn’t out of it by any means, but someone needs to take advantage of the returning experience on offense to get this team back to the postseason.
How the season will go…
It seems like everyone in the Sun Belt is replacing their quarterback, but State won’t have an issue with it. They’ll get off to a rocky start going 1-3 through the first four games, before predictably falling to the big boys on the road. There’s enough experience that the Panthers won’t drop a game they shouldn’t, but all eyes will be in Atlanta at the end of the year as rivals battle for bowl eligibility. This won’t be Georgia State’s year, but big things are in the works for 2019.