ATLANTA — The state of Georgia's two GSUs — Georgia State and Georgia Southern — will play for the first time as new Sun Belt Conference rivals on Saturday.
There is more than a new conference rivalry on the line. The two programs are FBS newcomers. Saturday's game at the Georgia Dome, the home field for Georgia State, provides the first head-to-head opportunity to impress fans and recruits.
Georgia Southern (5-2, 4-0 Sun Belt) will be the visiting team but is calling on its fans to take over the facility with a "whiteout."
Georgia State has won four straight since a 42-38 loss at Georgia Tech. There were at least 10,000 Georgia Southern fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and coach Willie Fritz said the return to Atlanta is "another opportunity to show what the Eagle Nation is all about."
"We've got so many alums from the greater Atlanta area," Fritz said. "Our players are excited because we have so many players from the Atlanta area. We've got a bunch who played in the Georgia Dome in state playoff games.
"I just think when you play in a conference that stretches from one side of the country to the other side of the country, it's great to have somewhat local teams you can have for your rival."
Georgia State (1-6, 0-4) is still looking for its first Sun Belt win, but it has come close.
The Panthers are coming off a 30-27 loss at South Alabama, their third loss by three points in conference games. In each of the close losses, Georgia State led in the fourth quarter.
Georgia State coach Trent Miles referred to Georgia Southern this week as "the team from the south part of Georgia."
"Rivalries are things that are established over years and history," Miles said. "So this is the start of one because it's natural, we're in the same conference and the same state. Hopefully in years to come they'll be talking about what a great rivalry it is."
Fritz is in his first season at Georgia Southern. He replaced Jeff Monken, who was named Army's coach on Dec. 24.
The Eagles are in first place in the Sun Belt in their first season as a full conference member.
"I think our guys have accepted the challenge of playing Division I games every week," Fritz said. "It's a big deal to understand this is not I-AA football anymore."
Fritz said he learned quickly that Georgia Southern fans travel well.
"Some said we had something like 12,500 at Georgia Tech," Fritz said. "I don't know the exact number, but we had a lot of them and they were very loud. One thing I have noticed that's different here is our fans don't sit on their hands. They make a lot of noise."