The Georgia State Panthers will kick off their 2021 football season at home Saturday against the Army Knights.

After finishing last season 6-4 with a win in the LendingTree Bowl, the Panthers are projected by many to compete within the Sun Belt Conference and make it to the conference championship game.

As Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott goes into fifth season at Georgia State, he is confident in his team this season and feels like they are where they need to be. He embraces the challenge of opening with an opponent like the Knights.

“I think the number one thing is opening with a quality opponent,” said Elliott. “I like opening up against tough opponents. I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase our university and our football program against a quality opponent.”

The Panthers are also returning a lot of veterans this season. They have 20 starters coming back this season and will be looking to build off of last season’s performance. Elliott believes it does play a role not only just for this game but for the season.

“I think experience plays a role in any contest,” said Elliott. “I think they’re going to be starting four or five new starting offensive lineman so you hope that is an advantage. We certainly have that.”

One key to the Panthers’ success this season will be the return of their start quarterback Cornelious “Quad” Brown. Brown finished second in the Sun Belt in passing yards per game (227.8) and total offense per game (257.9). After leading the Panthers to their second bowl win in school history earning the MVP in the Lendingtree Bowl, many are expecting Brown to take the next step in the Georgia State program.

Elliott has seen Brown grow since he was a true freshman and thinks there is one thing he has learned being the leader of the offense.

“Intelligence,” said Elliott. “He has to be a field manager and know what those guys [can do]. I think he’s done a great job.”

Brown will have his offensive weapons in the backfield and alongside him. One weapon is returning wide receiver Cornelious McCoy. For McCoy, being back this season is exciting and he is eager to get on the field.

“We are ready,” said McCoy. “We are happy to get our fans back, I was missing them. Being back, having our fans back, it’s only up from here.”

McCoy also has set goals for himself this season and wants to meet those expectations.

“This year, my goal is to reach 1000 yards,” said McCoy. “[I want to go for] 12 plus touchdowns and I want to go for 105 receptions.”

The Panthers defense has a few veterans coming back this season as well and will be a major key in the team’s success. Panthers cornerback Jaylon Jones will be back for his senior season after leading the team in pass breakups last season (11). Jones is excited for the matchup against the Knights.

“Opening up against a top tier team tests you and see what you’re made of,” said Jones. “We are going to see how disciplined we are. We have to minimize mistakes, turnovers and penalties.”

Game time is set for noon Saturday at Center Parc Stadium.

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott shouts at players during an NCAA football game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns on Saturday, September 19, 2020. (AP Photo/John Amis)