- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Of all the teams that will go bowling this season - a lengthy list indeed - none is more improbable than Georgia State.

The Panthers won only two games the last three seasons.

They had never beaten a FBS until this year.

Before 2010, they didn’t even have a football program.

Now, after closing with a four-game winning streak and routing its biggest rival in the regular-season finale, Georgia State (6-6) will face San Jose State in the Dec. 19 Cure Bowl at Orlando, Florida.

“We’ve come a long way in a very short period of time,” coach Trent Miles said Sunday, joining his team for a bowl-selection party at its football training facility near downtown Atlanta. “I’m so proud of them for what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

The Panthers feasted on pizza and wings, which were especially tasty after the performance that made them bowl eligible for the first time. A three-touchdown underdog, they romped to a 34-7 victory over Georgia Southern, handing the Eagles the worst home loss in that program’s proud history.

Making it even sweeter: Georgia State lost to the Eagles 69-31 last season.

“It was great to see the program actually flipping around,” senior linebacker Joe Peterson said. “It’s just awesome to see change.”

Of course, the Panthers got blown out by a lot of teams after launching their program, a costly decision that looked especially ill-advised when they attempted to move up quickly from the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision to the NCAA’s top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

In 2012, their last season under veteran coach Bill Curry, the Panthers went 1-11. Miles took over, and things only got worse as Georgia State completed its FBS transition. The Panthers went 0-12 his inaugural season, followed by a 1-11 mark last year with the lone victory coming on a last-second field goal against an FCS school.

Georgia State finally broke through this year against an FBS team, beating Sun Belt Conference rival New Mexico State 34-32 in the second week of the season. But another dismal year seemed likely when a 23-21 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette left the Panthers with a 2-6 record.

They haven’t lost since, knocking off Texas State, South Alabama, Troy and Georgia Southern to claim the Sun Belt’s final bowl spot.

“We really didn’t change anything,” Miles said. “We just stuck with what we do. We knew that what we were doing was the right thing. And our kids believed. We just had to get them over that hump to start believing in themselves that they can win games.”

The last month has hardly been a fluke.

Led by quarterback Nick Arbuckle, the Panthers are averaging 32.5 points and 511.2 yards per game during their winning streak. The defense had shown significant improvement, allowing just 14.3 points and 328 yards.

The Cure Bowl is a new event, one of three postseason games in Orlando and part of the record 40-bowl lineup that didn’t even leave enough non-losing teams to fill all the slots. San Jose State is among three 5-7 teams receiving a bowl bid.

But the Panthers certainly aren’t complaining.

“I know my children are excited. That’s where Disney World is,” Miles quipped. “But it didn’t matter if this game was in Orlando or the North Pole or the South Pole. We’re just glad to be in a bowl game.”

Georgia State’s athletic program is actually on quite a roll. The men’s basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament last season, memorably upsetting Baylor in the opening round when R.J. Hunter, the son of coach Ron Hunter, knocked down the game-winning shot, sending his father tumbling to the court.

“It’s momentum,” Miles said. “It’s good feelings toward Georgia State. We’re one of the fastest-growing universities in the nation. We’re one of the largest. Our name’s getting out there. People are going to really know what Georgia State is about.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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