Sun Belt

Georgia State Panthers Football Preview 2016

Georgia State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Panthers, best players and season prediction.

2016 Georgia State Preview: Players To Know

There’s just no other way to call it – Georgia State turned in one of the grittiest seasons by anyone in college football last season.

Utterly horrible in their first two seasons in the FBS world, the Panthers managed to start out 1-23 going into 2015 – the one win coming in a late thriller over a horrible Abilene Christian team to kick off 2014.

It seemed like more of the same with a 1-4 start that included a home loss to an abysmal Charlotte squad and a 41-33 clunker to Liberty, and then a 2-6 run with the idea that beating New Mexico State and Ball State was going to have to make for a successful season.

And then a strange thing happened – Georgia State started winning.

Remember, this might have been the worst team in college football over a 32-game span, so the idea of winning four straight and going to a bowl game was preposterous.

Not only did the Panthers do just that, but they royally messed up the bowl shots of Texas State and South Alabama before coming up with one of 2015’s biggest shockers – a 34-7 road win over rival Georgia Southern to become bowl eligible.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, San Jose State won the Cure Bowl, but so what? There’s life. There’s toughness. There’s something to build on and get excited about.

The nation’s ninth-ranked passing game loses QB Nick Arbuckle and WR Donovan Harden, but eight starters are back on the offense that showed the key spark late in the year. The success and the turnaround, though, came on the other side of the ball, and now it should be fun with nine starters returning – however, losing heart-and-soul LB Joseph Peterson stinks.

The program that built its way up into one phenomenal month has to prove it can do it for a full season. Now it knows, though, the winning really is possible.

What To Watch For On The Georgia State Offense

Can the running game start to work? To be fair, the Panther passing game was so good that there wasn’t too much of a reason work on the ground, but it would be nice to start doing more after averaging just 3.1 yards per carry hitting the 200-yard mark just once and getting over 151 yards just twice. The top four rushers are back behind a veteran line that gets back four starters, so while GSU will still be throwing, there are options.

What To Watch For On The Georgia State Defense

Can there be more of a pass rush? The secondary did a decent job overall – it gave up plenty of yards, but it also held its own in key spots. It would obviously be a huge help overall to generate more from the defensive front into the backfield after coming up with just 18 sacks last season with DE Mackendy Cheridor and LB Michael Shaw tying for the team lead with three. It’s an improvement after the D came up with 12 sacks in 2014 and 11 in 2013, but there needs to be more.

Georgia State Will Be Far Better If …

The penalties slow down. The Panthers might have gone 1-11 in 2014, but they were tight on the flags getting hit just 66 times for 514 yards on the year, and with 22 of them coming in a two-game stretch. Last year was a different story getting flagged 92 times with ten coming in losses to Charlotte and Arkansas State and ten more in the win over South Alabama. This isn’t a good enough team to lose the penalty battle and survive in close games.

Best Georgia State Offensive Player

WR Penny Hart, Soph. – The two best players coming into the season might be in the receiving corps, with Robert Davis coming off a 61-catch season averaging over 16 yards per grab, and Hart ready to roll after leading the team with 71 catches for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns. Can the receivers produce like they did last season without having Nick Arbuckle throwing their way? They might be talented enough to make the starting quarterback better no matter what.

Best Georgia State Defensive Player

LB Kaleb Ringer, Sr. – The potential is there for Bobby Baker to be among the best defensive backs in the Sun Belt – at least against the run – and Alonzo McGee has the potential to blow up after moving from the strongside to the weakside, but it’s Ringer who should be the best of the defensive lot no matter where he plays. Is he going to be in the middle? Is he going to work on the weakside if McGee plays somewhere else? No matter where Ringer is, he should be one of the team’s leading tacklers.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Emiere Scaife, Soph. – Or Conner Manning, or Brett Sheehan, or Aaron Winchester. Nick Arbuckle stepped up in his senior season throwing for close to 4,400 yards with 28 touchdowns, and can anyone possibly replace his production? Scaife was the No. 2 man last season, but he missed on all eight of his passes and isn’t close to Arbuckle as a bomber. Scaife is the first option, but Manning comes over from Utah and has the potential to win the job with a big fall camp. However, the 6-2, 218-pound Scaife – a very smart lefty with good upside – has the upside to carry the offense for the next few years.

The Georgia State Season Will Be A Success If …

It goes back to a bowl game. This is a loaded year for the Sun Belt and there won’t be too many layups, and the non-conference schedule has built-in losses against Air Force and Wisconsin, but after getting a bowl game last year with its impressive campaign, a losing season would feel like a massive letdown considering all the experience returning. If everything comes into place with the passing game, Texas State, Troy, UT Martin, South Alabama, ULM, and Idaho are all very winnable. Take five of those six, pull off one other upset, go to a bowl. It’s that simple.

Key game

Sept. 2 vs. Ball State. Several Sun Belt games will be more dangerous and needed as the year goes on, but coming off a hot end of 2015, starting out with a home win in a Friday game in the Georgia Dome would be a terrific tone-setter and could take a little pressure off considering the next three road games – Air Force, Wisconsin and Appalachian State – are likely losses. If this is a bowl-worthy team, beating a rebuilding MAC team at home is a must.

2015 Georgia State Fun Stats

– Punt Return Average: Opponents 14 – Georgia State 3.5
– Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 13-of-23 (57%) – Georgia State 1-of-9 (11%)
– Sacks: Opponents 33 for 212 yards – Georgia State 18 for 139 yards