Hidden in Boone, North Carolina, there is a football team who may be the best team in their state. Yes, there are seven FBS programs in the state of North Carolina, including four ACC programs, and the little brother hidden in the mountains may be better than all of them. They are legitimately good. Not just good for a Sun Belt team…Not just good for a Group of Five team. Legit good.
The Mountaineers have had a good amount of success since their transition to the FBS level back in 2014. Over those four seasons prior to 2018, App State managed to go 37-14. Not too shabby. This year is different though. As great as winning the Dollar General Bowl and Camellia Bowl (twice) may seem, App State has their eyes set on not just another Sun Belt title, but the G5 New Year’s Six berth.
They don’t usually get a ton of chances on a national stage, but Tuesday night they traveled to Jonesboro, Arkansas to take on the Arkansas State Redwolves in the lone college football game of the evening on ESPN. This was most of America’s first look at the Mountaineers in 2018 and they made sure they showed out. In this tough road test, against a team considered to be one of the best in the Sun Belt, Appalachian State showed their ability to purely dominate their opponents. After some early struggles, they closed with 28 unanswered points in route to a 35-9 win in a suffocating defensive performance. Justice Hansen got picked off three times and Arkansas State went just 3-17 on third down and 1-3 on fourth downs.
While it wasn’t until this dominating perforamcne on Tuesday night that got people talking, App State should not just be ranked next week, but they should be ranked rather highly. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ analytics system had them ranked all the way up at #12 last week, even before this win. They’ve defeated their opponents by an average of 43 points in their four wins this year, with their lone loss coming in overtime in Happy Valley against Penn State. The Mountaineers rank 7th in the country in opponents yards-per-play (4.2), 9th in opponent points per play (0.231), and 14th overall in scoring defense. If you take away the Penn State game, App State has allowed less than 10 points in every game so far, for an average of eight points per game.
It’s not just the defense that has been stout under first year coordinator Bryan Brown. New starting QB Zac Thomas has manned the offense to great effect so far, throwing for 1040 yards, 10 TDs, and only three interceptions. He’s only 12th in the nation in yards per attempt at 9.3. Thomas has been a welcome surprise to a team that was not quite sure how they were going to handle the loss of four-year starter Taylor Lamb, who threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his college career.
If UCF were to hit a snag and drop a game at some point this year, do not be shocked if Appalachian State jumps up and steals away that New Year’s Six bid. We would all love to see what this team could do against another power five opponent in a bowl game.
Keep an eye out for this Mountaineers team. They’re not JUST Sun Belt good.