Georgia State Panthers 2016 Preview and Prediction

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#110 Georgia State Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#110

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, 7-30 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Luke Huard | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

A strong finish resulted in bowl eligibility, a first for a Georgia State program in just its third season as an FBS member. The challenge for Trent Miles' team in 2016 is to build on that momentum and capitalize on its experience (16 returning starters) with the goal of emerging as a legitimate contender in the Sun Belt.

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Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2016


Replacing a quarterback in Nick Arbuckle, who set a Sun Belt record with 4,368 passing yards last season, won’t be easy. But the return of six starters including the majority of the other skill players should help the Panthers remain among the most productive offenses in the league. 

“We’re going to try to get our system to fit around our talent,” coach Trent Miles says. “We’re very talented at receiver, tight end and running back. Our quarterbacks are talented, they just haven’t played for us.” 

Conner Manning, who barely played at Utah, enters as a graduate transfer into a quarterback competition with last year’s backup Emiere Scaife and redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester. Regardless of who emerges, Georgia State boasts one of the best receiver duos in the league with senior Robert Davis (61 receptions, 980 yards) and sophomore Penny Hart, who led the league with 5.5 receptions and 84.5 yards receiving per game. 

The Panthers didn’t put a huge emphasis on running the ball last year, ranking last in the league at 96.9 yards per game. But they do bring back all eight players who had more than one carry and might focus more attention there as they break in a new quarterback.

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Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2016


Much of Georgia State’s turnaround can be attributed to its defense, which improved from last in 2014 to fourth in the Sun Belt in total yards per game. There was also a major difference in takeaways, as the Panthers forced 14 more turnovers last season than the year before. Led by 33-year old coordinator Jesse Minter — the son of former Cincinnati head coach and current Georgia State defensive line coach Rick Minter — GSU’s defense should be even better in 2016 with nine starters and all but one player in its front seven rotation returning. 

Senior defensive end Shawanye Lawrence is a quintessential example of how Georgia State has built the program. After starting as a 17-year old freshman, he’s developed into a 6'4", 270-pound senior who keyed a 122-yards-per-game improvement against the run last year. 

The Panthers are solid at both cornerback positions with junior Chandon Sullivan, who started as a true freshman, and sophomore Jerome Smith, who led the team with 11 pass breakups. Losing Tarris Batiste, who was a rock at safety, leaves a hole at a key position. 

“I feel good about our secondary and our front,” Miles says. “We’ve got a couple young guys at linebacker that have been in the system that need to step up and get going.” 

Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2016


The Panthers face a major challenge in replacing Wil Lutz, who handled their field-goal kicking, punting and kickoffs. Barring a late roster addition, redshirt freshman Brandon Wright will begin as the favorite to assume those duties, but he’s never appeared in a game. Sophomore receiver Marquan Greene did a solid job last year as kickoff return specialist, averaging 24.3 yards with a touchdown, and he’ll handle punts, too. 

Final Analysis


Winning their final four Sun Belt games to reach bowl eligibility for the first time was a major boost for a program that had been 1–23 in Miles’ first two seasons. Now the coach believes the Panthers are poised to take the next step and get in the conference title mix as they build depth and develop talent. 

“You don’t go from no football to a bowl game in six years that easily,” Miles says. “It takes a lot of work and building. Part of the deal is finally believing you can do it, and once our guys got the confidence factor they played good football. I don’t feel we’re very far away from being a program that can compete every year.”