NCAA Football: Georgia State at Tennessee

Aug 31, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Georgia State Panthers guard Akeem Smith (97) reacts to a play against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Georgia State won 38 to 30. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It's no surprise No. 25 Appalachian State is making a conference title run in November. But Georgia State?

In six seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, the Panthers have posted a winning record in conference play only twice, going 5-3 in 2015 and 2017. Twice they were winless in league play, and they were 1-7 a year ago.

But the Panthers (6-3, 3-2 Sun Belt) go into Saturday night's home game in Atlanta against Appalachian State (8-1, 5-1) needing a win to have a shot at least a share of the East Division title. That would give them the tiebreaker over the Mountaineers and the berth in the conference championship game if the teams end the season deadlocked.

"We are playing a significant ball game in the month of November going up against one of the best teams in the country," Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. "It's certainly exciting for our football program."

The Panthers, who started the season with a shocking 38-30 win at Tennessee, come into the game off a disappointing 45-31 loss at Louisiana-Monroe. That ended a four-game winning streak, which included a big 52-33 victory over Troy.

They also lost their starting quarterback when senior Dan Ellington (201.4 passing yards per game, 67.0 rushing) suffered a knee injury. In his place will be freshman Cornelious Brown, who has played in three games. Brown played the second half against ULM and was 8-of-18 passing for 80 yards, while rushing for 14 yards.

It adds a bit of mystery for Appalachian State coach Eliah Drinkwitz and his defensive staff.

"You've got to assume he's the No. 2 quarterback, which means he's been getting No. 2 reps, which means he's been repeating the plays that the first quarterback runs," Drinkwitz said. "I don't think we'll see a scheme change overall or a lot of new plays."

Brown's other five pass attempts on the season were not completed with one interception.

The Mountaineers, who this week became the first Sun Belt team to get a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, are coming off a win over South Carolina that gave them two victories over Power 5 conference teams. They beat North Carolina in September.

It was cause for much celebration, but Drinkwitz said his players are focused on Georgia State.

"I don't think we have any issue putting that game behind us," he said. "Yesterday they came in and everybody to a man wanted to talk about Georgia State."

Appalachian State is the second-highest scoring team in the conference with a 36.4 points-per-game average, a couple of points shy of Louisiana's 38.3. But Elliott wanted to talk about the Mountaineers' defense.

"They're all over the field," Elliott said. "They play with great intensity and they're fast. That's one of the things about that defense. They're so fast. They shut down South Carolina. I think South Carolina rushed the ball 27 times for 21 yards. If that's not shutting it down, I don't know what to say."

--Field Level Media