In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
2014 Record: 7-5 (6-2 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield (.458)
Returning Starters: 22/24 (10 OFF/10 DEF/2 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 117th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 12 @ Clemson
- Oct. 22 v. Georgia Southern
- Nov. 5 v. Arkansas State
- Nov. 28 v. UL-Lafayette
- Dec. 5 v. South Alabama
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE MOUNTAINEERS
Appalachian State mainly lives in people’s memories for taking down Michigan back in 2007, and it was indeed a glorious moment that deserves its place in the annals of college football history:
Yet what gets lost in that singular moment is the fact that the Mountaineers were beginning their run to a third straight FCS National Championship on that fateful day in Ann Arbor. Jerry Moore created a juggernaut in Boone that now rests in the hands of third-year head coach Scott Satterfield, who was the offensive coordinator at FIU before coming aboard at Appalachian State for Moore’s farewell campaign.
The giddy highs of 2007 haven’t yet been replicated, but the fact that Appalachian State was able to finish third in the Sun Belt in its transitional year from FCS to the FBS ranks — and would have been bowl-eligible if not for the transitional tag — indicates the possibility of a continued upward trend for the Mountaineers.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE MOUNTAINEERS IN 2015
Appalachian State return more starters than any team in FBS football this season, giving Satterfield the kind of experienced roster that most coaches would dream to be able to field. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb is back under center, after a Sun Belt freshman of the year campaign in 2014, and should be able to improve as a passer. The team also brings back the bulk of an offense that ranked in the top 20 in rushing and the top 30 in scoring average, and all but one starter to a defense that endured a rough start but solidified on the back half of the season to help secure a six-game winning streak.
Their path to the Sun Belt title is favorable as well, with both Georgia Southern, Arkansas State, and UL-Lafayette all having to travel to Boone to face the Mountaineers. Their conference road schedule features Georgia State, UL-Monroe, Idaho, and South Alabama; the toughest of that quartet is probably against Idaho, and that is solely because of the 2,000-mile flight and two-time-zone difference. The road is paved smoothly for Satterfield’s team to emerge atop the conference and satisfy the first stipulation of consideration for the Access Bowl slot.
WHAT COULD COST THE MOUNTAINEERS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
The Mountaineers have one hell of a statement game on the second Saturday of the season, heading south to Death Valley to face ACC contender Clemson. Unfortunately, that’s really the only statement game that Appalachian State will face in 2015 until its bowl game. The other three non-conference opponents are FCS Howard, at Old Dominion, and home against Wyoming. Not only will the Mountaineers have to beat all three teams, but they will have to do so convincingly.
Imagine, though, that Appalachian State was able to finish 11-1 — undefeated in conference play and with a lone loss on the road against Clemson — to emerge as the outright Sun Belt champion. Does their schedule strength stack up against, say, a Western Michigan team that could win the MAC at 11-2 with losses to Michigan State and Ohio State (and would also have a common victory over Georgia Southern as well)? Or if Boise State finishes the year with two losses again but emerges atop the Mountain West, would a Sun Belt team get the benefit of the doubt that Marshall wasn’t afforded last year as C-USA champion?
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Appalachian State has all the tools to go to the first FBS bowl game in school history, and they have a favorable path to challenge for at least a share of the Sun Belt title. Whether that will translate into an Access Bowl berth, however, is largely out of the Mountaineers’ hands. Satterfield’s crew can dominate all eight of its Sun Belt opponents, but unless they manage to also defeat Clemson and finish the year undefeated their season will probably end outside the elite core of the New Year’s Six games.
And you know what? That’s perfectly okay for a program that was on an FCS downswing just two years ago and is only beginning to get its footing underneath it after the transition up a level in the college football hierarchy. I expect the Mountaineers to reach mid-October and their home showdown with Georgia Southern at 5-1 in the standings, with the only loss coming on the road against Clemson. The Thursday-night duel with the Eagles will essentially decide which team remains in the hunt for the Sun Belt crown. Last year’s game ended 34-14 in Georgia Southern’s favor; unfortunately the Eagles are likely to walk away with the victory again, though by a much shorter margin this time around. A rebound against Troy is likely, and if the Mountaineers can win another Thursday toss-up game at home against Arkansas State they will be in position to finish the year no worse than 9-3.
If lucky, a co-championship could be in order. Should they manage to upset Georgia Southern, Appalachian State immediately vaults into front-runner status in the Sun Belt. Either way, a 10-win season should be on the line in their bowl game, and with the motivation of starting their FBS history with a bang Satterfield and company should get to that point.
PREDICTED RECORD: 10-3 (6-2 in Sun Belt)