Appalachian State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Mountaineers, best players and season prediction.
That didn’t take long.
Appalachian State wasn’t the FCS superpower it was in the late 2000s
when it made the move up to the FBS ranks in 2014 – going 4-8 in 2013 – but the fundamentals of the program were still strong.
It was a team building to be terrific again, and it showed with a good first year in the Sun Belt going 7-5. And then came last season that turned out to be truly special.
When your two losses are to a Clemson team that got to the national title game, and to a strong Arkansas State squad that ended up as the unbeaten Sun Belt champion, that’s not a bad year. When the season is 11-2 with a bowl win, then it’s sensational considering how quickly the program made the jump.
But Appalachian State is used to being fantastic. The Mountaineers were used to being in the FCS national championship chase, and they even went to nine bowl games – granted, they were all between 1937 and 1955 – before winning last season’s Camellia Bowl over Ohio. This is what Appalachian State football is supposed to do.
Former ASU quarterback Scott Satterfield has turned into a whale of a hot young coaching candidate – he’ll turn 44 this December – and now he has the team in place to keep the fun going.
QB Taylor Lamb and RB Marcus Cox are among the Sun Belt’s best at their respective positions, and while most of the top receivers are gone, the line should be outstanding.
The defense that finished 11th in the nation and was so consistently strong welcomes back nine starters and more than enough depth to fill in any gaps.
This is a program built to last and put together at least another outstanding year before Satterfield becomes a red-hot national coaching candidate. But, again, success is the norm for Appalachian State.
And the rest of the Sun Belt has to get used to it.
What You Need To Know About The Appalachian State Offense
The offense that was so good at running the ball last season – finishing sixth in the nation in rushing and 26th overall – should get the machine up and rolling again. Co-coordinators Shawn Clark and Frank Ponce have a ton of talent to work with, starting with RB Marcus Cox and QB Taylor Lamb in one of the Sun Belt’s top backfields. Only two starters are gone off a terrific line that knows how to blast away – Cox should be in for another massive year. The one negative? Three of the top four receivers are gone. They were mostly along for the ride, though, with the running game carrying the load.
Biggest Key To The Appalachian State Offense
How quickly can the receiving corps come around? Everything else is in place in the wonderful attack from the quarterback, running back, and O line all set. But who will Taylor Lamb throw to? The spotlight will be on Jaylan Barbour, Jaquil Capel and Shaedon Meadors to add a little pop to the passing game, even though the ground attack will be doing most of the work. Meadors – who was out this spring hurt – is the leading returning receiver averaging 21 yards per catch, and TE Barrett Burns is a dangerous target, but if the rest of the receivers come around, look out.
What You Need To Know About The Appalachian State Defense
The Mountaineers did a phenomenal job last season in all phases, finishing 11th in the nation in total defense and turning into a wall against decent passing teams. Defensive coordinator Nate Woody loses star DE Roland Blair and S Doug Middleton, and that’s it. Nine starters return to what should be the Sun Belt’s top D, with a phenomenal pass rush and attacking style that’ll be camped out in the backfield. Five of the top six tacklers and nine of the top 11 return – and there’s depth to play around with, too.
Biggest Key To The Appalachian State Defense
Can the front seven keep getting into the backfield on a regular basis? The Mountaineers attacked from the linebacking corps with John Law, Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer consistently camped out in the backfield, but it was Ronald Blair who dominated from the end. Blair might be gone, but the rest of the defense needs to keep on applying the pressure after coming up with a tremendous 98 tackles for loss with ten in three games. Even better, the pass rush ramped it up late in the season with 15 sacks in the final three regular season games. With nine starters back, the production should continue.
Appalachian State Will Be Far Better If …
The placekicking is solid. As much as possible, Appalachian State has all the parts in place on both sides of the ball, and the special teams – outside of the punt return game – are back after a huge season. The one X factor should be the loss of Zach Matics, who connected on 14-of-17 field goals with two of his misses coming in the close-call bowl win over Ohio – but he nailed the one that counted. The Mountaineers only played in three close games decided by seven points or fewer, and now he needs to be replaced. Bentlee Critcher will get a look at the placekicking job, but he’s too good a punter to get more work. Freshman Michael Rubino will get the first shot at the job, and he’s got to be clutch.
Best Appalachian State Offensive Player
RB Marcus Cox, Sr. – Arguably the Sun Belt’s best player over the last two years, the workhorse back ran for 1,423 yards and nine scores, averaging almost six yards per crack while carrying the offense time and again. He’s not going to have to do it alone with other options in the backfield and a strong QB in Taylor Lamb to take the pressure off, but he’s too good to not get the ball at least a 20 times a game. The key will be to keep him fresh after touching the ball 530 times over the last few seasons.
Best Appalachian State Defensive Player
LB John Law, Sr. – Eric Boggs led the team in tackles and might be coming off a better season, but when he’s healthy, Law is the better overall linebacker. But that’s the key – can he stay in one piece after having ankle problems? When he’s right, he’s deadly with phenomenal range and good speed into the backfield. While he was a better run stopper and tackler as a freshman, he turned into a stronger pass rusher last season.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DE Caleb Fuller, Jr. – Ronald Blair earned all-star honors generating 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, and now he’ll be sorely missed, even with a slew of top veterans returning. It’s an open casting call to replace him on the other side of Nathaniel Norwood, and Fuller is getting the first look. The 6-0, 240-pound pass rusher did a nice job generating 2.5 sacks and 21 tackles, and he’s got the look to do far more. Quick off the ball and with a world of upside, he should be a situational pass rusher, at the very least.
The Appalachian State Season Will Be A Success If …
There’s a Sun Belt championship at the end of the fun. Another season like 2015 would be more than fine – going 11-2 with a bowl win – but the loss to Arkansas State cost the Mountaineers the conference title. With Tennessee and Miami on the schedule, it might be tough to get out of the first part of September better than 1-2, but there’s no reason not to roll through the rest of the relatively easy slate. If the veteran team really is as good as it’s supposed to be, and everyone stays healthy, the Sun Belt championship should be a lock with a win over …
Oct. 27 at Georgia Southern. There’s no Arkansas State to deal with, and there’s only one game on the conference schedule against someone who finished with a winning record – Georgia Southern. It’s a tough Thursday night road game that should go a long way to determining the conference crown, and it comes five days after facing Idaho. It’s not a stretch to call this the Sun Belt title game.
2015 Appalachian State Fun Stats
– First Quarter Scoring: Appalachian State 121 – Opponents 52
– Sacks: Appalachian State 36 for 234 yards – Opponents 11 for 71 yards
– Fumbles: Appalachian State 19 (lost 13) – Opponents 10 (lost 6)