Patrick O’Brien of NinerReport.com answered these questions ahead of Georgia State’s game against Charlotte at the Georgia Dome on Friday:
Q: What are Charlotte’s expectations this year?
A: It will be a tough year coming into Conference USA but the 49ers and fans are excited for the transition. The offense for Charlotte has a lot of talent that can certainly help them in their first year but the defense will have to be much better than it was to compete at the next level. Granted, many aren’t expected to be .500 or above, but the 49er could certainly surprise a few teams and pull out a few wins. Winning three to four games this season could be an excellent start, heading into their first FBS season.
Q: How is the 49ers running game?
A: The run game should be solid for the 49ers if they con repeat what they were able to do last season. Kalif Phillips is an under-the-radar back heading into the season but he could make a name for himself. The 49ers were also able to grab Andrew Buie, a West Virginia transfer, that certainly could make the run game a dynamic piece early on.
Q: Who is the offensive player to watch?
A: Austin Duke (WR): Many people around the area know Duke but the 5-10 wide receiver can flat out fly and move the chains. He had over 1,300 yards last season and is the favorite target for QB Matt Johnson, who will be starting Week 1.
Q: Who is the defensive player to watch?
A: Two players to watch are Senior Devon Johnson and Junior Larry Ogunjobi. Johnson is returning after missing last season with injury and Ogunjobi was the leader in sacks and tackles for loss for the 49ers last season. Both are on the defensive line.
Q: What was a weakness last year that may be a strength this year?
A: Depth: When I say this, there were several injuries last year for the 49ers, so many players had to step up in their place, getting valuable playing time and experience. Now, with the start of the season this season, it feels that Charlotte has more experience and depth at several positions due to last season early playing time.
Q: What was a strength last year that may be a weakness this year?
A: Overall, Charlotte is a talented team but they have never had the experience of playing against the talent like Conference USA and bigger programs. Last year, even though the defense struggled, the offense was able to pull them out in a few games. But facing better defenses and talent, will they be able to do the same this year?
Q: What is your prediction?
A: Much more competitive game than some might think and if the 49ers can develop and use their run game, something Georgia State struggled with last season to control the ball, they can stay in the game. But this will be a big test for the secondary with a talented quarterback for Georgia State.