With JMU ineligible for the Sun Belt Championship, Thursday’s game between Georgia State and Georgia Southern feels close to a de facto Sun Belt East title bout. The two rivals will square off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and the winner will have just one conference loss to their name.
Given each team’s overall record and their relative strength compared to nearby teams in the standings – they’re both more than 25 spots ahead of Old Dominion in ESPN’s Football Power Index – a win Thursday puts them in the driver’s seat to represent the East in the conference title. The weeknight showdown is monumental for both teams.
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Expect a shootout?
The college football betting odds list the total for the game at 63.5 points, suggesting a shootout may be in order. Each offense has its own unique strengths.
Georgia State runs the ball fairly well (177 yards per game) with quarterback Darren Grainger and running back Marcus Carroll leading the charge. Grainger is also among the league’s most efficient passers, completing 69.5% of his throws and tossing 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Georgia Southern leans on its high-powered passing attack to overwhelm opponents. No team throws it more than the Eagles, who have tossed 342 passes this year. They average 318 yards per game through the air, the best in the conference. While it’s not always the most efficient passing attack, the Eagles bank on a handful of their many passes going for nice gains.
Despite each offense having obvious talent, the defenses for each side are underrated. Both teams rank in the top half of the conference in scoring defense, with each team allowing fewer than 25 points per game. Georgia Southern has more interceptions (9) than passing touchdowns allowed (8), and Georgia State allows just 3.7 yards per rush.
While the betting odds suggest a winner might need to score 30+ points to win, don’t discount these defenses making key plays to push one side to a win.
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Location is everything?
Georgia Southern is about a 1.5-point betting favorite against the Panthers. Thursday’s spread would likely be flipped if Georgia State hosted the game.
The Eagles are 8-2 at home since Clay Helton became the program’s head coach, while they’re just 3-7 away from Statesboro. The home victories include a win over JMU last season and a 10-point win over Coastal Carolina this fall.
Georgia State, on the other hand, is a perfect 3-0 on the road this season. The Panthers haven’t won more than three games on the road in a season since 2017, though, when they went 5-1 in road contests.
If Georgia State can defeat Georgia Southern on the road before a game against JMU, the Panthers will cement their status as a Sun Belt East beast. A loss, however, gives Georgia Southern a reasonable path to the Sun Belt title game.