Dream On: Georgia State, Abilene Christian Get a Taste of the Spotlight

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The Georgia Dome looks a whole lot different during a Georgia State Panthers game than it does on Sundays when the venue’s other tenants, the Atlanta Falcons, are playing. But the vast expanse of unfilled seats visible during the broadcast of Georgia State’s 38-37 win over Abilene Christian Wednesday represents the vast potential Georgia State University hopes to tap into through Panthers football.

Two seasons ago, Abilene Christian football was a force in the Div. II Lone Star Conference. Five seasons ago, Georgia State football didn’t exist.

Wednesday, the two programs faced in the 2014 season’s first game involving a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of the game. Georgia State snapped its 16-game losing streak, and head coach Trent Miles notched his first victory with the Panthers.

The Panthers and Wildcats enjoyed the solo spotlight of an ESPNU, national television broadcast. They made the most of it, too, playing a back-and-forth game with plenty of highlight-reel plays, a double-digit, fourth-quarter rally and a final-drive finish.

The Sun Belt Conference’s official Twitter account touted this Nick Arbuckle 41-yard touchdown bomb to Avery Sweeting for Sportscenter Top 10, and the case is awfully strong.

As the rest of Div. I kicks off the 2014 season tomorrow and throughout the holiday weekend, both Georgia State and Abilene Christian will recede into the backdrop of the increasingly crowded college football landscape.

FCS is unfortunately treated as a complete afterthought–that was plainly evident when one half of a broadcast between two of the subdivision’s best teams was hijacked for College Football Playoff talk.

And even within the FCS scene, Abilene Christian is going to take its lumps in its first season as a member of the Southland Conference. Further, the Wildcats are not eligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2017.

Indeed, adjusting to a new level of football is difficult. Few programs understand that quite like Georgia State, which in its first season as a full-fledged FBS member. The Panthers were briefly FCS members after an inaugural transition season before joining the recent exodus to FBS.

Georgia State and Abilene Christian are programs chasing the college football dream. It’s the same dream that prompted longtime Div. I-AA/FCS powerhouses Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to join the Sun Belt this season, two years after new conference mate Texas State made a similar jump to FBS.

It’s the same dream that led to Lamar, Stetson, South Alabama, Houston Baptist, Old Dominion, Mercer, Charlotte and UT-San Antonio to launch programs along with Georgia State in the last half-decade.

Every college football program had to start somewhere. Why can’t one of these dreamers be the next Boise State?

The Broncos became NCAA members in 1969, just 13 years before Abilene Christian moved from NAIA to the NCAA.

Perhaps one can grow into another UCF, the reigning Fiesta Bowl champion. UCF parlayed its high undergraduate enrollment and proximity to a rich recruiting pipeline into success in much the same way Georgia State aims.

It’s much like the prevailing attitudes throughout all of college football at this time of year, only on a larger scale. Coaches, players and fans embark on a new season with dreams, a vision of what the campaign can be.

Like those seats in the Georgia Dome, potential seems almost limitless.