Mountaineers Hitch Their Wagon to Sun Belt
(This is the fourth in a series of season previews of Sun Belt Conference teams and UL non-league opponents. Today: Appalachian State. The Mountaineers visit Cajun Field November 22.)
When you think of FCS schools that have pulled upsets over one of the big boys, which game comes to mind first?
Well, if you said Appalachian State over Michigan, you wouldn’t be alone.
The Mountaineers got that huge win over the Wolverines in 2007, on the way to their third straight FCS National Championship.
Now, App State thinks they’re ready to take the next step.
The Mountaineers get ready for their first year as a member of the FBS and the Sun Belt and are hoping the change of scenery and more experience will help them better the 4-8 record they had a year ago. The Mountaineers were a very young club a year ago, especially at the skill positions and that experience should help them in the transition.
Second year coach Scott Satterfield is not a stranger to the Sun Belt. He’s been at App for 18 of the last 23 years, but spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator under Mario Cristobal at Florida International. Kameron Bryant returns at quarterback after setting a school record by completing 71.2 percent of his passes, despite not starting a game until week five. His 2,713 yards were the most ever by a sophomore at App State. He threw for 14 touchdowns while having just four picks.
Marcus Cox won the starting running back job as a true freshman and responded with 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. He averaged over five yards per carry. Those two should make the Mountaineers pretty potent offensively. App State got hit with departures at the WR spot, but Malachi Jones and Simms McElfresh combined for 51 catches last season. Oregon transfer Tacoi Sumler, injured last year, should make an immediate contribution.
Satterfield has to be happy with the front line, as the Mountaineers have the most experienced offensive line in the country. The top five all return from a team that tallied nearly 5000 yards in offense last season.
But there are some concerns defensively. App State only allowed 40 points in a game one time last year and that was against Georgia. A good number of those players on defense are gone, however, including their top two tacklers. Linebacker John Law and DL Deuce Robinson are play makers. The line has to be a lot better, however, after recording just a handful of sacks a year ago. That has to improve, especially with the passing games of teams in their new league.
On special teams, Zach Matics had 21 touchbacks in 55 kickoffs last year, but he’s new to being the #1 placekicker. Bentlee Critcher had an outstanding freshman season, averaging nearly 46 yards per kick. The Mountaineers need to replace outstanding return man Tony Washington, who returned both punts and kicks.
Guess who Appalachian State opens the season with? Yep. Another trip to the Big House to face Michigan. They probably won’t take the Wolverines by surprise and this isn’t the same talent the Mountaineers brought to Ann Arbor last time. Appalachian State has two FCS foes (Liberty and Campbell) on the schedule and travel to Southern Miss. In league play, the Mountaineers do not play Texas State or New Mexico State. They get ULM and South Alabama at Kidd Brewer Stadium, but have to travel to Arkansas State and Louisiana on consecutive weeks.
OUTLOOK: Satterfield said in a preseason interview he’d be happy with a .500 season. Brewer and Cox are going to be able to move the football. They should win their two FCS games, but the question after that is how many can they win in their first year in the league? The two Georgia schools and Idaho will be winnable and they play well at home so there could be an upset there. Satterfield was spot on when he said he hoped for 6-6. It’s unlikely the Mountaineers can be any better than that.