The Charlotte 49ers, a football program only three years old, have been on the fast track to the FBS since day one. In 2012 there was no program at all, but three years later Charlotte is facing off versus the likes of Kentucky, Marshall, and Southern Miss. Even as recently as 2014, the highest profile teams that the 49ers have played in school history were James Madison and Coastal Carolina.
Since the beginning of the century, the FBS has seen six teams created out of nothing and moved to the FBS. Georgia State, Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, South Alabama, and UTSA have all been created in the 2000s. This season, Charlotte made number seven on the list with their introduction during their third season of existence.
Each of the previous six programs did it in their own special way. Whether building up a strong FCS program and then making the jump or going in head first due to an unexpected invitation, each team made the move.
There are multiple ways to build a program and many details that can be looked at in detail on another but, but let's just look at the results from each of these methods.
The Slow Build:
The Owls took a five year plan to get to the FBS. Under the leadership of football legend Howard Schnellenberger, FAU officially joined the Sun Belt for the 2005 football season. In their third year at the FBS level, the Owls sustained their biggest success, back to back bowl trips in 2007 and 2008.
Overall, it has been an up and down 11 years at the FBS level for FAU. They are 46-86 with trips to the New Orleans Bowl and Motor City Bowl on their resume.
The Old Dominion Monarchs have been one of the most patient newly started programs in getting to the FBS. Only one other FBS program created in the 2000s was willing to wait five seasons before making the jump to the FBS, Florida Atlantic. The Monarchs did wait and found a home in 2014 with Conference USA.
Not only has Old Dominion been able to find success leading up to their move (46-14 record), but they have been able to sell out Foreman Field to the tune of over 40 straight sellouts. In their first year as a FBS program, Old Dominion finished 6-6 and have the chance to again get to 6-6 and their first bowl berth with a win over FAU.
Florida International took a three year path to the FBS. They were a bit of a package deal with FAU, despite starting as a program one year later. After three losing seasons at the FCS level, the Panthers finally joined the Sun Belt as a full member and struggled mightily.
A surprising 5-6 season in their first FBS year, the Panthers lost 23 of their next 24 games. Under the leadership of Mario Cristobal, the Panthers earned trips to the Little Caesars Bowl and the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2010 and 2011.
Overall, FIU has a record of 42-91 in their eleven seasons at the FBS level.
South Alabama wanted to become a full member of the Sun Belt with rumors floating around that the Sun Belt wanted as many programs that didn't have football to add it. It only made sense for the Jaguars to jump on that idea in the football hungry state of Alabama.
In their four year plan, the Jaguars played a cornucopia of teams at different levels of football. From teams also slowly making the move to the FBS, to some team called Edward Waters, to a trip to North Carolina State, it was the plan from the beginning for South Alabama to be fully prepared for their trip to the FBS.
As with nearly any FBS newbie, the first season was a disaster. The Jaguars went 2-11, but did defeat FAU for one of their two wins. Overall, the Jaguars have gone 19-29 with a trip to the 2014 Camellia Bowl during their FBS tenure.
The Quick Move:
The UTSA Roadrunners made the ambitious jump to the FBS after only one true season as a program.There was more to the decision to jump out of nowhere to the FBS, but that is another story for another day.
In a stunning revelation, the Roadrunners were immediately competitive in the WAC with an 8-4 overall record before heading to Conference USA. The first season as a CUSA member was the best for UTSA with a 7-5 record that included wins over New Mexico, UTEP, UAB, Tulsa, Tulane, North Texas, and Louisiana Tech.
Though the Roadrunners have not been able to duplicate that early success in the last two seasons, UTSA showed that a quick move to the FBS could work. Overall, UTSA is 22-25 with two winning records in four FBS seasons.
The move of Georgia State to the FBS was sped up by a desperate need of the university to play FBS football quickly and likely some pressure from the Sun Belt. The Panthers were in trouble from the beginning as program architect Bill Curry stepped away, mentioning that the move to the FBS was too soon for the new program.
So far, Curry has looked to be a prophet with the Panthers sporting a 5-29 overall record in the first nearly three seasons as an FBS program. Four of those wins have come in this current season.
So, where does Charlotte fit? What team do they most closely align with in the build a program to playing at the FBS level game?