December 15, 2015

Georgia State came a long way this year after totaling only two wins in its three previous seasons.

San Jose State needed to come a long way in the classroom in order to join the Panthers among the bowl-eligible.

These schools will meet for the first time Saturday in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., after the Spartans used a strong APR to become one of three teams with losing records to earn their way into the postseason.

Georgia State's program is in its sixth season of existence and had lost 33 of 35 games over the previous three before going 6-6 this year. Another dismal campaign seemed ensured when the Panthers lost six of eight to begin 2015.

Instead, coach Trent Miles' squad posted a four-game win streak to end the season and gain the program's first bowl invitation. The Panthers are eager for the opportunity.

"They're not satisfied with just being in a bowl game; they want to go down there and win a bowl game," Miles told the school's official website. "We're not just happy to be there. We've got good leadership on our team to reinforce that, and that leadership is why we're in the position we're in."

With not enough qualified teams for the this season's slate of bowl games, three spots were available for teams with 5-7 records with the best APRs. That group included Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri, but the Tigers elected not to participate.

San Jose State was next in line to take advantage of the extra chance, and the program had previously suffered from scholarship losses for failing to make the grade.

"It's worth noting that it was the team's academic performance coupled with what they did on the field that made this invitation possible," athletic director Gene Bleymaier said.

Spartans coach Ron Caragher isn't apologizing for getting in with a losing record after his team was snubbed two years ago despite a 6-6 mark.

"The bowls have made a commitment to having a game," Caragher said. "They have made advertising commitments, they've hired a staff and they've put all their ducks in order to have a game, so I think the right thing to do so the bowl doesn't suffer, the right thing to do is to have a game."

Georgia State finished fourth in the Sun Belt behind Nick Arbuckle, who ranks sixth in the FBS with an average of 346.7 yards passing with 26 touchdowns. He spearheaded an offense averaging 32.5 points and 511.2 yards on the win streak.

"The preparation really started to pay off and everyone began to jell together, and we really learned how to win," Arbuckle said.

The Panthers' passing attack resulted in the Sun Belt's three leaders in receiving yards per game: Penny Hart (91.7), Robert Davis (81.6) and Donovan Harden (73.6).

Those targets could have trouble getting untracked against the Spartans, who yield 153.6 passing yards per game for the second-best mark in the FBS.

"I know that they're a really good defense, they've done a really good job of defending the pass so far as well," Arbuckle said. "They haven't really gone against a great passing team yet so it'll be a good challenge for them."

San Jose State averaged 414.5 total yards of offense to rank fourth in the Mountain West Conference. Tyler Ervin rushed for 1,469 yards to rank third in the conference with 13 touchdowns. He also had 44 catches for 337 yards and two scores.

Georgia State allowed an average of 179.8 rushing yards.

San Jose State has captured its last three bowls, beating Bowling Green 29-20 in the 2012 Military Bowl.

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