First-year Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott spent the last seven seasons in the Southeastern Conference as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator at South Carolina, and he says Penn State matches up "very, very favorably to many SEC teams that I've faced."
But that doesn't mean that his Panthers, whose only game so far in 2017 was a 17-10 loss to FCS program Tennessee State, are coming to Beaver Stadium on Saturday night to meet the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions just to pick up a nice financial guarantee.
Asked Monday on the Sun Belt Conference coaches call what his team can gain Saturday, Elliott replied, "Gain? First and foremost is a win.
"You probably sit there and laugh at that scenario, but we're coming up to play this football game just like any other," Elliott said. "We've got to come up there and execute, both offensively and defensively and on special teams. We need to eliminate a lot of the mistakes that we had in our first ballgame and try to build our football program.
"This is a great opportunity for us to go up there against one of the top-ranked teams in the country and measure ourselves right up against the very, very best, whether it be their coaching staff or their players on offense and defense, or their special teams. So we've got a lot at stake for our football program here.
"It's a great venue to be playing in front of. It's an opportunity for us to be playing on the Big Ten Network, so a lot of people are going to see Georgia State football. Win or lose, Penn State is going to know that we came up to play a football game — I can assure you that."
This is only Georgia State's eighth season playing football, and fifth in FBS. The Panthers competed in FCS for their first three seasons, including a year in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2012. Trent Miles was fired last November in his fourth season as head coach, and Elliott took over.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in 2014, at the time the game was scheduled, that Georgia State will be paid $1.2 million. A Penn State spokesman declined to confirm the report, saying the information is not public.
The Panthers last played on Aug. 31, when they turned the ball over four times and rushed for just 49 yards in their season-opening loss to Tennessee State at Georgia State Stadium, their new home facility in Atlanta formerly known as Turner Field.
Elliott said he and his staff used the off week "as more or less a continuation of [training] camp."
"We were trying to sort ourselves out as a football team, work on fundamentals and eliminate the miscues we had in that first contest in terms of ball security, just doing things the right way," he said.
Elliott was quick to acknowledge the talent and ability of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
"He's a big, strong, physical athlete," he said. "I've had an opportunity to see a lot of good backs in my time, and he ranks right up there. He's powerful; that's the thing about him. He's just got so much strength, and you've got to gang-tackle this guy. I don't think there's anybody in college football that can bring him down alone."