Appalachian State is gaining recognition as one of the best G5 programs in the nation and have become a borderline top 25 team on the back of their statement win over long-time rival, Georgia Southern. The Mountaineers (6-1) handed their conference foes their first ever loss in the Sun Belt and took the driver’s seat in the conference championship chase with a dominating 31-13 victory in front of a raucous Kidd Brewer Stadium crowd.
The App State defense throttled the number one rushing offense in the country, and held the Eagles more than 200 yards under their season long rushing average (399) in the contest. After the first drive of the game, (in which the Eagles went 86 yards for a touchdown), the defense adjusted and held them to only 29 yards the rest of the first half. Once the rushing game was firmly held in check, the Georgia Southern passing game was helpless versus a strong Appalachian secondary and pass rush. On a short week it isn’t easy to adjust to the triple option, but the Appalachian coaches had their squad ready. Their physical style of play was not limited to defense. The App rushing attack outpaced Georgia Southern by a margin of 231-188 for the game. Once the rushing attack was established with Marcus Cox (90 yards and 2 tds), quarterback Taylor Lamb (sixth in the country in quarterback efficiency rating) was able to gash Georgia Southern with the deep passing game. Lamb ended the evening with 202 yards passing and two touchdowns.
How good is this Appalachian team? They have put up some eye catching statistics and are an impressively balanced team. Head coach Scott Satterfield’s bunch is now the only FBS school in the country to rank in the top 20 in both defense and offense (7th in defense and 20th in offense). The men from Boone became the first school in North Carolina to become bowl eligible with their sixth win. Their only blemish on the season (Clemson 41-10) no longer looks as bad as it once did since the Tigers are destroying every team they play and in contention for a College Football Playoff bid.
Appalachian received six votes for the A.P. top 25 this week (the first time receiving votes for the poll since 2007). The S&P+ ratings, a computer ranking used by the College Football Playoff Committee, currently ranks Appalachian as #20 in the country. CBS sports moved them up 12 spots after the big win to #34 in the country and Bleacher Report ranks them at #40. So, there is still a lot of differing opinions on how good this team out of the Belt really is.
With three of their final five games at home, and assuming they handle their success appropriately, the Mountaineers should be favored in all their remaining regular season games. Their biggest remaining test will be against Arkansas State at home next Thursday night (they will be heavily favored on the road versus Troy this week). Barring an under-performance in the remaining schedule, App should finish the regular season (their first season of bowl eligibility) with only one loss, and are a team led primarily by sophomores and juniors. The biggest thing holding this squad back at this point is their strength of schedule. The Sun Belt conference doesn’t receive much respect nationally, and the team will not have a chance to prove themselves versus a bottom tier P5 team or much stiff competition in the G5 ranks outside of Georgia Southern last Thursday night. Without a Sun Belt championship game this rising program will most likely have their next statement opportunity in a bowl game.
Currently there are only four G5 schools in the A.P. top 25. Number 16 Memphis (7-0) will still face two of them after playing Tulane (2-5). The Tigers will have a rough three-game AAC stretch, having to play Navy (5-1), # 18 Houston (7-0) and #21 Temple (7-0) in consecutive weeks. Toledo (7-0) is #21. The Rockets have to play Bowling Green (6-2) on November 17th, which may turn out to be a huge Tuesday night football contest in the MAC. So, while it is unlikely, it is possible the boys from Boone could sneak into the G5 New Year’s Eve bowl slot.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how their jump into the national spotlight will help with recruiting heading towards 2016. Appalachian may be in the mountains, but the school’s football program is approaching new heights in its second season playing FBS football. Only time will tell how high they can rise.