And just like that, we’ve reached the end of the regular season. The Georgia Southern Eagles take on the Georgia State Panthers for bragging rights and a small percentage of an official rivalry trophy Saturday. Why not?
Start Time: 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, Nov. 24
Location: Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta
Records: Georgia Southern (8-3, 5-2 Sun Belt), Georgia State (2-9, 1-6 Sun Belt)
Weather: 54 degrees at kickoff, mostly cloudy
Betting Line: Georgia Southern -11, Over/Under of 58
Georgia Southern Outlook
This season is an unquestioned success already, and while it has fallen from the soaring heights once thought possible, 10 wins are still in view. This would give GS its highest win total of the FBS era.
But first, the other GSU lurks. Or um, the only GSU I suppose.
During Georgia Southern’s long run in the FCS it had two rivals. There was Appalachian State and there was Furman. App State was a rivalry of respect even among the hate, two rural schools with dedicated fanbases and darn good football teams nearly every year.
Then there was Furman. A school Southern fans hated to even admit was a rival. Furman was a tiny private school playing in a glorified high school stadium in front of very few onlookers. How did this school even get on the schedule? And yet it became a rival, like it or not, especially because the Purple Paladins got the best of the Eagles quite often. This includes a win in the last-ever meeting between the teams in 2013.
For Georgia Southern fans, Georgia State is the New Furman. While public, State remains a mostly commuter school with a high percentage of non-traditional students. The Panthers don’t have many fans either, and play in a baseball stadium formerly known as Turner Field. Again Southern fans ask themselves, why is this school even on the schedule?
State adds insult to injury in multiple ways. First and foremost is that Georgia Southern University can no longer refer to itself by its own initials as a means of avoiding confusion. Then there are the TV announcers constantly referring to the Eagles as “Georgia State” in spite of the initial policy.
Last but not least: Like Furman, the Panthers get the best of the Eagles a lot more than Southern fans would like. GSU has a 3-1 edge in the series and a three-game winning streak coming into Saturday’s game.
On paper Georgia Southern has the much better team this season, as evidenced by a far superior record and an 11-point spread in Vegas. Eagle Nation will aim to have more fans than State in its own stadium once again, and will be absolutely seething to get the win.
Like it or not, for Eagle Nation, Georgia State is the New Furman.
Georgia State Outlook
I suppose I should actually talk about the football matchup at some point. Georgia State is having a rough season in year two of the Shawn Elliott era. The former App State and South Carolina assistant may be in danger of regaining his position coach status if he can’t turn things around quickly.
State picked up seven wins in 2017, including the school’s first bowl win, meaning this season has been a huge regression. There was a last-gasp, season-opening win over FCS Kennesaw State and a surprising blowout of ULM, and there have been nine losses including six in a row.
That does not mean Southern will blow out this team. It is a rivalry, and yes that makes a difference. Keep in mind too that the Panthers did blow out ULM, which subsequently blew out GS. There have been some other near-misses along the way, and while there’s no doubting State is a bad team it remains a dangerous one.
State is a young squad with just one senior starter on offense. The Panthers will hope for a big day from junior receiver Penny Hart, who gave Southern fans nightmares following last season’s matchup. Junior college transfer Dan Ellington is State’s quarterback and has completed just under 60 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. The Eagles’ vaunted secondary will be a tough test for him to say the least.
On defense, Southern’s explosive run game will be a tough test for State’s defense, and one they’re not likely to pass.
Georgia Southern beat Appalachian State for the first time since 2014 earlier this year. They will beat Georgia State for the first time since 2014 on Saturday.
Yes, anything can happen. Yes, State absolutely can win. But the little headline there says “prediction” and that’s mine. Southern fans will come ready to party and should get rewarded with the big win in Atlanta before heading off to bowl season.