ATLANTA -- The start of any college football season generates a lot of excitement, and this weekend's kickoff to the 2012 campaign will be no exception.
And while Atlanta has been at the center of the opening weekend of the college football world with one -- and this year, two -- high-profile matchups at the Georgia Dome, it is Georgia State that will be among the first teams to take the field when they welcome South Carolina State to the Dome tonight at 7:30.
"We are excited about it," said GSU coach Bill Curry, who will begin his final season of coaching after announcing his retirement, effective at the end of the season, earlier this month. "We love the idea of us starting out on Thursday night. Our students love it, our fans love it. We do get to go first. It's televised. ... It's just an exciting moment.
"(But) we want to play well. We don't want to go out there and be all jacked up and make mistakes. We want to execute."
Among those who will be most needed to execute will be Ben McLane, who will be making his first start as the Panthers' quarterback.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt freshman has been in the Dome before in a pretty significant situation -- playing for the Class AAAAA state championship for Brookwood just over two years ago, though he admits the atmosphere tonight in front of a larger crowd and a regional cable television audience on CSS will be quite different.
Still, he said the goal for himself, and the rest of the Panthers, is to not treat tonight's contest as anything out of the ordinary.
"The only way to prepare for a game like this, in my opinion, is to not make a big deal about it," McLane said. "We prepare so hard in the offseason and we have a long ... training camp that we put so much pressure on ourselves. So, when we come to a game like this, it's just like nothing out of the ordinary.
"It's just like another day at work. When you do walk out under the lights and have a bunch of people there, it's just like in practice. We've done that to ourselves, and we embrace whatever comes our way."
The Panthers are hoping a win comes their way, but in order to make that happen, they will have to have a better effort late in games.
And last year's meeting with South Carolina State (7-4 last year), was a prime example of how late-game breakdowns plagued GSU during its 3-8 campaign.
The Panthers led last year's game with SCSU in Orangeburg, S.C., 13-10 late in the third quarter, only to see the Bulldogs roll off the game's final 13 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to steal a 23-13 win.
"Last year was a lesson playing against them because we played very hard, but they played harder," said Curry. "The game was a good physical match and was won by the team that was more determined. We've got to be more determined when the chips are down."
SCSU returns 13 starters from the team that pulled off last year's comeback, including Asheton Jordan, the Bulldogs' leading rusher a year ago with 774 yards and five touchdowns, and quarterback Richard Cue, who threw for 213 yards and ran for 45 more in last year's win over GSU.
But for the Panthers, the focus is more on their own attitude, rather than the opponent.
"The first thing is we have to come every day ready to compete, get lined up and run to the ball," redshirt senior linebacker Akeen Felder said.