As we work to expand our college football coverage, now that several of our Newton County alums have been joined to three of Georgia's five major Division I team, we'll be bringing you coverage of most Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State home games, as well as some team news.
Here, sportswriter Matthew Grimes provides a Georgia State football primer.
Building Process Continues
Entering only their ninth season of football, the Georgia State Panthers look to build off their recent success and once again compete in the Sun Belt Conference, where they finished fourth last year. Lead by second year head coach Shawn Elliot — a Steve Spurrier protégé — the Panthers continue their task of building the program’s resume from the ground up with a few marquee games this season, including matchups versus Kennesaw State, at NC State, and at Memphis.
Momentum After Recent Success
The 2017 season was easily the best season in the Panthers’ short eight-year history. Not only did they capture their first bowl win, defeating Western Kentucky 27-17 in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, but the team had a record-setting year statistically. Offensively, Georgia State set program records for completion percentage (64.2%), fewest interceptions thrown (9), most total yards in a game (670), and most points scored in a game versus an FBS opponent (47). The Panthers wielded a smothering defense that set records in six different categories including fewest points allowed per game (24.75), fewest rushing yards allowed in a game (-2), and most team sacks (24).
Georgia State will be losing key contributions from the graduating class, including Connor Manning, Kyler Neal, and Chandon Sullivan. Quarterback Connor Manning led the Panthers’ record setting offense and set the school record for wins in a season last year. Running back Kyler Neal was the team’s second leading rusher and led the team in rushing touchdowns with five. Chandon Sullivan locked up receivers from corner and played well enough to earn a spot on the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free-agent. Last year’s standout tight end Ari Werts transferred from the program to East Tennessee State, opening another offensive production hole for the Panthers to fill.
Though there are some key departures, the Panthers have a bright future under coach Elliot as their last two recruiting classes are the school’s highest ranked to date. Not only will these classes begin to see the field and develop, they return many key contributors from last season. Last year’s leading rusher Glenn Smith returns, adding some experience to State’s new look backfield. Linebacker Michael Shaw, who was named to the pre-season All Sun Belt team, returns as the team leader in tackles-for-loss last season.
Although Connor Manning led the Panthers last year at quarterback, his backup, Aaron Winchester, played sparingly last year, giving him some game experience heading into potentially his first season as the starter. Standout receiver Penny Hart is entering his junior year with high expectations. He enters the year as the FBS active leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches, on the pre-season first team All Sun Belt team, and on the Bilentikoff Award watch list.
Former Newton High School quarterback Romario Johnson finally made his D-1 dreams come true with his transfer from ASA Miami (JUCO) to Georgia State. Although he starred at quarterback at Newton, he will be playing safety for the Panthers after setting single game records at the position during his time at ASA. The junior is sure to use his prototypical size (6’1”, 210 pounds), physicality and football IQ to find some playing time for Georgia State this year.