Can two schools in the South truly have a rivalry if they’ve never played football against each other?
It depends upon who you ask.
Fans of Georgia State and Georgia Southern, who will meet for the first time in football Saturday at the Georgia Dome, have used social media to espouse their dislike for each other, an always important part of a rivalry.
“I think relevancy to a rivalry exists in other sports,” said Georgia State graduate Ben Moore, the editor of Panthertalk.com, a site devoted to discussing the school’s teams. “Football will stoke the fire even more. It will make it that much hotter.”
The coaches of the two teams weren’t as certain.
“We’ve never played,” Georgia State coach Trent Miles said. “It has a chance to develop into one. You are both in the same state, share the same initials. There is an opportunity for it to be a rivalry.”
Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz seemed sure, then unsure.
“I think it is because we are both from state of Georgia,” he said. “I know they are both large universities. We have a lot of alums in greater Atlanta area. It’s the beginning of a rivalry.”
Despite not having played each other in football, there are a few ingredients that make it a rivalry, other than they recruit many of the same players and the alumni of both schools work in some of the same offices, where zingers can fly and are fueled by the following facts:
The present: The Eagles are off to a 4-0 start in the Sun Belt in its first season in the league, compared with the Panthers’ 0-4 start in its second season in the league. The Panthers are still winless after 11 league games. So, there’s a talking point that’s been hammered by the fans.
Georgia State, with an enrollment of 32,000, has averaged 11,824 for its home games, compared with Georgia Southern, which an average enrollment of 20,500, has averaged 23,635 at Paulson Stadium. There’s another talking point.
The past: Georgia Southern’s six FCS national championships compared with Georgia State’s overall record of 11-41.
Some Georgia Southern fans didn’t like Georgia State getting an invitation to an FBS conference before it did.
Some Georgia State fans are envious that the Eagles posted a win over an FBS team (beating Florida last year) before the Panthers did.
So, there’s some more blue-and-white mud to throw at each other, considering they share shades of the same colors.
“If you are a fan of the team down south and Georgia State was irrelevant, you wouldn’t be hot and bothered with the attention that Georgia State has gotten since 2010,” Moore said.
This isn’t the schools’ first time in the same conference.
The two universities once shared membership in the Trans America Athletic Conference.
Georgia State, which joined the TAAC in 1983, left to join the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005. Georgia Southern, which joined the TAAC in 1979, left to join the Southern Conference in 1992.
As they did before sharing the TAAC, the universities continued to play each other in a variety of sports as non-conference opponents. The Eagles lead the all-time sports series between the two schools, 164-148-6, according to information compiled by Georgia State.
The path to create — or officially renew, depending upon your viewpoint — the rivalry began when Georgia State agreed to join the Sun Belt in 2012. It was joined when Georgia Southern agreed to join a year later.
Social media has been the platform of choice this week to fan the flames for Saturday’s meeting.
#StatenotSouthern or #SouthernnotState are common hashtags on twitter. #ModernDayHate was trending earlier this week.
Some Georgia State players and coaches have referred to Georgia Southern as “that school down south.”
Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein has referred to Georgia State as that school in Atlanta and the Georgia Dome, the Panthers’ home, as Paulson North.
Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb’s Twitter profile features a photo of a scoreboard showcasing the Panthers defeating the Eagles in volleyball.
So if the fans act like its a rivalry, the athletic directors act like its a rivalry.
Leave it to the players, those who have the task of winning bragging rights, to decide.
“I’ve been here 8-9 months, and I can get the feeling between the players, what’s on social media,” California native and Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle said. “It’s a big deal.”
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