(Part 8 of a 12-part Sun Belt Conference football preview series)
Georgia State enters its ninth season of football with a new coach, a new stadium and a new outlook.
Former South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was hired as the Panthers' third head coach in December. Elliott finished out the 2015 season as the Gamecocks' interim head coach following the retirement of Steve Spurrier.
GSU moved into Turner Field, the former home of the Atlanta Braves, in January. Renamed Parker H. Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium, the facility has been converted into a 22,000-seat football stadium.
On the field, the Panthers are trying to bounce back from a disappointing 3-9 (2-6 Sun Belt Conference) campaign.
Despite ranking third in the conference in passing (246.3 yards per game), the Panthers finished 121st in the nation in scoring (19.9 points per game), 126th in rushing (87.7 ypg) and 119th in total yardage (333.9 ypg).
Elliott inherits 17 returning starters, including nine on offense.
Senior quarterback Conner Manning completed 207-of-373 passes for 2,684 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 10 games. Also in the hunt are sophomore Aaron Winchester and junior Jaquez Parks. Starting two games in place of the injured Manning, Winchester was 24-of-45 for 271 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Winchester also finished second on the team in rushing (49 carries, 204 yards, 1 TD). Parks, the Panthers' holder last season, has not thrown a pass since transferring to GSU from Hinds (Miss.) Community College.
At running back, senior Kyler Neal (75 carries, 314 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Tra Barnett (22-107) are being challenged for playing time by senior Glenn Smith (41-150-2). Smith hauled in 40 passes for 547 yards and 3 TDs as a wide receiver last season.
Two-time first-team All-Sun Belt wide receiver Robert Davis leaves a hole in the receiving corps. The school's all-time leading receiver, Davis was drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Redskins.
Sophomore Penny Hart (71 receptions, 1,099 yards, 8 TDs in 2015), the 2015 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, is expected to help offset Davis' loss after appearing in only two games due to a broken foot.
Junior Ari Werts (21-239-3) is a reliable target at tight end.
Senior right guard Alex Stoehr, who has started all 37 games of his college career, is among four returning starters up front. Sophomore left tackle Hunter Atkinson, junior center Gabe Mobley and senior right tackle Sebastian Willer round out the holdovers.
Defensively, the Panthers ranked eighth nationally and first in the conference against the pass (173.9 ypg) last season. GSU also finished in the middle of the pack among Sun Belt schools in points allowed (26.6 ppg), rushing (206.8 ypg) and total defense (380.7 ypg).
Seven starters return, but the Panthers must replace their top two tacklers in linebacker Alonzo McGee (97 tackles) and first-team All-Sun Belt safety Bobby Baker (82 tackles), along with four-year starting end Shawanye Lawrence.
Seniors Mackendy Cheridor (32 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and Julien Laurent (28 tackles, 1 sack) and junior Marterious Allen (45 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack) provide experience on the D-line.
Junior Michael Shaw (76 tackles, 12 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT) and senior Trey Payne (66 tackles, 1 INT) bring a veteran presence to the linebacker spots.
Senior Chandon Sullivan (43 tackles, 3 INTs) and junior Jerome Smith (40 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INTs) are the cornerbacks with sixth-year senior Bryan Williams (61 tackles) at strong safety. Georgia Military transfer DeAndre Applin has the inside track at the other strong safety position.
Sophomore Brandon Wright averaged 39.8 punts on 61 attempts and booted 12 of 45 kickoffs for touchbacks.