The #21 Appalachian State Mountaineers (6-0) are the darlings of the Sun Belt football conference, and one of 10 remaining undefeated FBS schools. Appalachian State is fighting for a potential Group-of-Five berth in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, but they might only achieve that spot if they can run the table and finish the regular season a perfect 12-0.
Appalachian State takes on Georgia State (5-2) this weekend in Sun Belt action. The Mountaineers cannot overlook Georgia State with a huge game looming next weekend against South Carolina. The Gamecocks look like the only true competition that could thwart Appalachian State’s march toward the Cotton Bowl and an undefeated record.
The Sun Belt is a quaint conference made up of 10 football teams in coastal states in the South. Appalachian State, located high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, North Carolina, leads the East Division that also includes Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Troy, and Coastal Carolina. Of course, all of those schools sounds like a great sleeper or a potential #12 seed upset during March Madness. But that’s college basketball, where Cinderellas have an equal shot at winning a national championship. It’s impossible to garner any respect on the college gridiron unless you play for a Power Five school, which means only a handful of teams have a legitimate title opportunity.
Appalachian State jumped out to a 3-0 record in Sun Belt conference play. Their next matchup will be against South Alabama (1-5), which is currently 0-3 in Sun Belt conference action.
The Sun Belt Curse
Appalachian State faded the Sun Belt’s Top-25 football curse. In the past, whenever a Sun Belt team gets recognition from Top-25 AP Poll voters, they invariably lose the next weekend.
Appalachian State entered the Top 25 last week at #24, and still came out on top in their next game with an easy 52-7 victory over ULM. Darrynton Evans rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown to lead the Mountaineers to a 6-0 record.
App State relies heavily on the run game. They average 232 yards per game, which ranks them #18 overall in the nation. Evans averages 6.4 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns. He also caught a TD reception for 11 total combined scores.
App State’s QB, Zac Thomas, likes to run and he’s scored four touchdowns, while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Thomas can fling the ball too. He’s passed for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Appalachian State is battling to reach the pinnacle of the Group-of-Five teams in the country, which would land them a berth in the Cotton Bowl. Boise State’s lost to BYU last weekend, thrusting App State to the top of the G5 teams. Appalachian State could be playing in a New Year’s Bowl Game instead of one of the many innocuous bowls in mid-December.
Appalachian State could finish the season undefeated at 12-0 by winning their next six football games, which would set them up perfectly for a date in the Cotton Bowl.
“I’m glad that we’re able to make history here at App State,” said graduate transfer WR Keishawn Watson.
Their biggest competition remaining on their schedule will be a non-conference game against South Carolina (3-4) in Columbia, SC next weekend. South Carolina already played the role of spoiler this year by upsetting Georgia, ranked #3 at the time.
App State already picked off North Carolina 34-31 courtesy a blocked field goal in Week 3, which first got them some attention.
“This wasn’t an underdog story,” said Appalachian State head coach Elijah Drinkwitz. “You’re not playing a logo. You’re playing a team. It wasn’t going to be an upset. We belonged on that football field today and we wanted to prove it.”
The Mountaineers could sweep the Carolina series with a victory over South Carolina. That would give them key victories over an ACC and SEC team.
Playing in the Sun Belt does not impress the college football playoff selection committee, but beating a team in the SEC is enough to garner attention. The big knock against UCF the last few years was they played a soft schedule outside of the American Conference, which is why the playoff committee snubbed them.