With the start of the 2022 campaign just weeks away and hype steadily building off a successful debut (and offseason) for new coach Shane Beamer, it’s time to take a closer look at the Gamecocks’ opponents on the gridiron this year, starting with the season opener against the Georgia State Panthers.
Last meeting: Sept. 3 in Columbia will be the first time these programs battle it out, but there’s some familiarity between them: Shawn Elliott, entering his sixth year as the head man for the Panthers, was the Gamecocks’ offensive line coach (and then interim coach) during the Steve Spurrier era, when Beamer was also on staff as recruiting coordinator. On the off chance that you, as an informed GABA reader, somehow didn’t know this, I’m very confident the broadcast team will do what they can to hammer home this storyline.
Last season: For those among the Gamecock faithful who insisted Elliott had head coaching chops — and were sad to see him passed over after his interim stint — his 2021 season with the Panthers was a big step toward validating that faith. Georgia State shook off a bumpy 1-4 start to go on a 7-1 run and finish 8-5, which included a blowout victory over Ball State in the Camellia Bowl. The Panthers have now compiled three straight winning seasons and four bowl appearances in the past five years under Elliott’s guidance, so it’s fair to say this is a program on the rise in an increasingly competitive Sun Belt Conference.
Player to watch out for: Quarterback Darren Grainger, who transferred from Furman, was critical to the Panthers’ mid-season resurgence last year, throwing 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions (in 228 attempts!) while also adding 646 yards and three scores on the ground (good for a 4.8 yards per carry average).
Oh, and here’s another storyline for you: Former South Carolina cornerback Jamyest Williams is now part of a veteran 1-2 punch at tailback for the Panthers, turning in 859 yards and nine touchdowns last season alongside fellow senior Tucker Gregg (953 yards, nine scores).
With 15 returning starters, the Panthers placed eight players altogether on the Sun Belt’s all-conference preseason teams, which was tied for most with heavyweight Appalachian State.
Prognosis: Georgia State was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt’s East division after App State and Coastal Carolina, but that’s hardly a knock on the Panthers given the recent runs of success the Mountaineers and Chanticleers have enjoyed. In addition to the Gamecocks, Georgia State will have to tangle with the likes of North Carolina, Army, and Marshall in its non-conference slate, so matching last season’s success could be difficult. Nonetheless, the Panthers should be able to net Shawn Elliott yet another bowl bid.