Veteran Georgia State team has Sun Belt title aspirations

Georgia State football coach Shawn Elliott address the media during the 2021 Sun Belt Conference meetings in New Orleans.
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Georgia State football coach Shawn Elliott address the media during the 2021 Sun Belt Conference meetings in New Orleans.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle

The preseason goals have grown each season since since Shawn Elliott became the Georgia State head coach five years ago. With his most experienced team returning this year, the Panthers are dreaming on a bigger scale.

Elliott is dangling the Sun Belt Conference championship as a goal for his team, something that was unthinkable not so long ago.

“Five years ago it was about let’s build a winning mentality … let’s go win our first bowl game,” Elliott said during the Sun Belt Conference Media Day in New Orleans on Thursday. “And now we’re sitting here talking about, hey, let’s go push for a Sun Belt championship.

“We feel like we have the talent, we feel like we have the players. I think our coaching staff is phenomenal, and I think we have the ability to go out and compete.”

Georgia State went 6-4 in 2020 and won the LendingTree Bowl. The Panthers were competitive in all but one game, with three of the four losses coming by a total of 14 points. Earlier this week, Georgia State was picked by the Sun Belt coaches to finish third in the East behind Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State.

“We found out one thing, that we can really compete in this league,” Elliott said. “And we’re ready to take that next step. We talk about it. I’m not afraid and I’ve never been afraid to talk about winning a championship. We say start fast, finish strong. We’re talking about finishing for a championship. We’re going to go out and prepare each week and really take the next step.”

Georgia State returns all 11 starters on offense and nine on defense. The Panthers placed 10 players on the preseason all-conference team.

The Panthers must endure an ambitious non-conference schedule. They play Army (the home opener Sept. 4), at North Carolina, vs. Charlotte and at Auburn before opening Sun Belt play Oct. 2 against perennial power Appalachian State, a team Georgia State has never defeated.

“I try not to look at it,” Elliott said. “It’s a difficult task. It’s an exciting task. It’s one that I think our coaches and team really looks forward to going out and competing against. We’re going to have to be prepared early and play our very best.”

Georgia State had non-conference wins in 2019 against Tennessee and Army. The Panthers had a game at Alabama canceled last year because of COVID-19.

“We’re going to know a lot about our football team coming out of those four games,” Elliott said. “We’ll find out if we are really championship contenders, so to speak, in our league.”