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Georgia State Football: 2018 Panthers Preview and Prediction

Penny Hart, Georgia State Football

Penny Hart, Georgia State Football

Shawn Elliott pushed Georgia State physically last season, trying to build a culture of toughness while getting them to believe the young Panthers could win. All things considered, going 7-5 with a bowl win over Western Kentucky was a better-than-expected debut.

Previewing Georgia State Football's Offense for 2018

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Georgia State Football/Athlon Sports 2018 College Football Preview

As Elliott infuses more of his identity in Year 2, Georgia State will gear its offense toward a dual-threat quarterback. That wasn't possible last season with honorable mention all-conference passer Conner Manning, who threw for 3,146 yards. But his departure gives offensive coordinator Travis Trickett a clean slate to find somebody who can grow into a system that will use plenty of spread concepts.

Who that will be remains a question, as Elliott doesn't plan on naming a starter right away. Junior college All-American Dan Ellington comes with plenty of buzz, but Aaron Winchester has some experience as a backup, and Jack Walker ran the scout team last year as a redshirt.

"It'll work itself out," Elliott says.

The next quarterback will have the luxury of a deep receiving corps led by 5'8" junior Penny Hart, one of the Sun Belt's top playmakers with 2,281 career receiving yards, and an impact transfer from South Carolina in 6'4" Christian Owens, whose physicality on the perimeter will bring a different element to the run game.

An infusion of talent up front should pay dividends. Elliott inherited just seven offensive linemen, and the Panthers had to get creative last season in moving around personnel to fill holes while three of his recruits redshirted. This year, Georgia State should rotate 9-10 linemen with four starters returning, turning a weakness into a potential strength.

Previewing Georgia State Football's Defense for 2018

Though the Panthers were among the top four defenses in the league last season, allowing a respectable 24.8 points per game, their lack of athleticism on the back end was often exposed against good passers and receiving corps. That's why Elliott is excited to promote a new, younger group of defensive backs to bolster what should be a strong front that held teams to an average of 136.4 rushing yards last year.

"We're going to put guys back there that can cover the ground from hash to sideline very easily," Elliott says of a group that includes exciting freshmen Chris Bacon, Jaylon Jones and Jacorey Crawford at safety and Tyler Gore at corner. Cornerback Jerome Smith is one of the Sun Belt's top returning defensive backs for 2018. 

Georgia State will also have to rely on youngsters at linebacker to build around solid seniors Chase Middleton and Michael Shaw, with Victor Heyward and Trajan Stephens-McQueen emerging last season as true freshmen.

Nose guard Dontae Wilson looks like a potential All-Sun Belt player. He recorded four sacks and 24 tackles in 2017 and should be the anchor in Georgia State's 3-4 scheme for the next few years.

Previewing Georgia State Football's Specialists for 2018

Placekicker Brandon Wright, who also shared punting duties last season, had a strong finish to the season, going 8-of-10 over the final four games. One of Georgia State's big goals for 2018 is finding ways for Hart, a dynamic and shifty playmaker, to make an impact in the punt return game, as the team averaged just 6.4 yards per return. 

Final Analysis

Elliott still needs another couple years of recruiting to get the roster up to par. Though a tougher schedule and a younger team may function as speed bumps in 2018, Elliott is well on his way to building one of the more solid programs in the Sun Belt.

College Football Rankings: Georgia State