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Donnie Collins | The Times-Tribune | September 16, 2017

Georgia State seeks consistency, looks to hang with Penn State

Georgia State has a lot to prove ahead of its meeting with No. 5 Penn State.

Few, on either side of the issue, debate what Georgia State provides.

A developing football program that can learn something from a big-time environment. A team so desperate for some national exposure that the shot to play on the Big Ten Network -- never mind during the prime-time hours -- could provide the impetus for an historic recruiting boost. Most of all, a soft landing spot in the third week of the season for a highly ranked football team in between an emotional game against a rival and the start of the conference slate.

Rest assured, Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott knows the realities that back up those statements, especially at this stage in his program's history. He also doesn't care about any of them.

"(What do we have) to gain?" Elliott asked incredulously. "First and foremost, a win."

"You'll probably laugh on that scenario, but we're coming up there to play this football game just like any other."

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The upstart Panthers, who haven't played in two weeks and lost, 17-10, to Tennessee State in the opener of just their fifth season playing in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, will march into Beaver Stadium tonight at 7:30 against No. 5 Penn State. But their first-year head coach insists Georgia State won't simply be attempting to scare the defending Big Ten champions.

"We have to execute really well both offensively and defensively and on special teams," he conceded. "We have to eliminate the mistakes."

"But, we have to build our football program."

Doing so takes time, and what would go down as the biggest upset in college football this season certainly wouldn't push Georgia State quickly into the national title hunt. But a strong effort against Penn State would show that the Panthers can consistently play with the top contenders in the Big Ten.

After all, these Panthers played the same role against Wisconsin last season. Third week of the season. On the road. Heavy underdogs. And, halfway through the fourth quarter of that game at Camp Randall Stadium, the Panthers had the lead against the Badgers before ultimately falling, 23-17, to the then-No. 9 team in the nation.

"They are going to be used to playing in these Big Ten type of environments on the road," Penn State coach James Franklin warned. "Obviously, they are a talented team."

Franklin noted that most of the key performers in that game for the Panthers will be on the field again today. Quarterback Conner Manning is a Utah transfer who has been steady in his Georgia State tenure. Receiver Glenn Smith had five catches for 131 yards against the Badgers. Linebacker Trey Payne had seven tackles. Cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan and Jerome Smith and the rest of the secondary helped hold the Badgers to just 213 passing yards.

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Can they finish a Big Ten upset this time, against an offense much more explosive statistically than the one they held in check in Madison? Maybe not. But all questions about why this game is being played -- and whether it should be played at all -- aside, Elliott said his team sure is going to try.

"This is an opportunity to go up against one of the top teams in the country and measure ourselves up against the very, very best," Elliott said. "We've got a lot at stake for our football program here. Win or lose, Penn State is going to know we came up there to play a football game. I assure you that."

This article is written by Donnie Collins from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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