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Georgia State Football: 2022 Panthers Season Preview and Prediction

Darren Grainger, Georgia State Panthers Football

Darren Grainger and the Panthers are ranked No. 72 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

Georgia State finished 2021 by winning seven out of its last eight games, including a dominant performance (51-20) over Ball State in the Camellia Bowl. With 15 returning starters, coach Shawn Elliott's team has the pieces in place to push for a Sun Belt title. The emergence of Darren Grainger at quarterback was critical to the late-season improvement, and the senior is once again aided by a standout backfield with Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams doing most of the damage. The Panthers have a few holes to plug on defense and must navigate a schedule that features road treks to Marshall and Appalachian State. 

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Georgia State's Offense for 2022

Though the running game gets most of the credit for the Panthers' success in 2021, their season turned around when Furman transfer Darren Grainger locked down the starting quarterback job once and for all in mid-October. Now, the question is whether he can add a little more downfield pop to his steadiness (just four INTs on 228 attempts) and running ability (4.8 ypc) to fully maximize a team with four starters returning on the offensive line and the league's best backfield duo in seniors Tucker Gregg (953 yards, nine TDs) and Jamyest Williams (859 yards, nine TDs).

"It's a great one-two punch," head coach Shawn Elliott says of his RBs. "And I think we have two or three young backs that may be as good as our all-conference guys."

There's room to improve through the air, where Grainger averaged just 126 yards on 17.4 attempts per game. Ja'Cyais Credle and Jamari Thrash broke out as sophomores, combining for 53 receptions, while tight end and key red zone threat Aubry Payne (seven TDs) was granted a seventh season of eligibility. If the Panthers can involve those players more and find a suitable replacement for departing left guard Shamarious Gilmore, they should have one of the Sun Belt's top offenses.

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Previewing Georgia State's Defense for 2022

The Panthers bring back seven starters from a defense that made some big, disruptive plays with a school-record 36 sacks, 92 tackles for a loss and 21 turnovers forced. A lot of that pressure comes from the linebacking corps in the Panthers' 3-4 scheme, and they'll bring back two all-conference players in Blake Carroll (11.5 TFLs) and Jordan Veneziale (97 tackles, 8 TFLs) along with junior Jamil Muhammad, who had six sacks and a fumble return touchdown. There's also a ton of experience in the back end, led by star safety Antavious Lane (five INTs).

Up front, the Panthers expect Tre Moore and Jeffery Clark to settle into full-time starting roles at each edge position and give their defense even more speed and explosive ability than it had last season.

Georgia State doesn't have a ton of proven depth and will need to stay healthy, particularly at linebacker. The Panthers gave their defensive veterans a light workload in the spring so that younger players could get more reps.

Related: Sun Belt Football 2022 Predictions

Previewing Georgia State's Specialists for 2022

The departure of Noel Ruiz (13-of-15 FGs) leaves a big hole at placekicker, which the Panthers will try to fill by having punter Michael Hayes pull double duty unless they add a late transfer. The Panthers do not return many kicks or punts, but Quavian White, a speedy cornerback, handles those duties.

Final Analysis

Coming off a school-record eight wins, the Panthers return multiple players who earned All-Sun Belt honors and 10 super seniors who are taking advantage of the extra year of COVID eligibility. "We have a little bit of momentum, so we're just trying to keep focused and keep the fight and understand we've got great motivation heading into the season," Elliott says.

National Ranking: 72

Podcast: Previewing and a Deep Dive + Predictions on the Group of 5 Conferences for 2022