For most fans, when they envision Appalachian State football they see Armanti Edwards over the top to Dexter Jackson, a blocked field goal and a stunning upset of No. 5 Michigan in the opening weekend of the 2007 season.
It was unprecedented because a Football Championship Subdivision school had never beaten a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision program before. However, this wasn’t exactly your standard issue Division-IA opponent considering the Mountaineers were coming off back-to-back national championships (they’d go on to win their third straight that year). Yet, despite all the talent Appalachian State brought to the table, Michigan was a loaded supposed national title contender and the loss was the beginning of the end for Lloyd Carr in Ann Arbor.
It also happened to be the beginning of something else entirely. Over the course of the next half-decade, Appalachian State–under a premise fueled by the win over Michigan that they could truly compete at the next level–began angling towards transitioning into the FBS. After the win over the Wolverines, the Mountaineers began stadium expansions that saw Kidd Brewer Stadium’s capacity increase from 16,650 seats at the end of 2007 to 24,050 in 2012.
In March of 2013, chancellor Kenneth Peacock announced formally that Appalachian State would be leaving the Southern Conference for the Sun Belt Conference, and, after a two-year transition period, the Mountaineers will begin their first bowl-eligible season this fall.
Last year, the Appalachian State Mountaineers competed as a full-time member of the Sun Belt and they were eligible to compete for the conference championship but wouldn’t be allowed to compete in postseason competition.
Coming off a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2013, Appalachian State got off to a rough start in 2014, losing five of their first six games, including a 52-14 demolishing at the hands of Michigan in a return trip to Ann Arbor. Even more frustrating was a 55-48 OT loss to Liberty at home on Oct. 11 to bring the Mountaineers to 1-5 on the season.
However, with a young roster slowly gaining footing on unfamiliar ground, Appalachian State found their gait in the second half of the season. They got their first Sun Belt win on Oct. 18 at Troy with a 53-14 thrashing and they followed that up two weeks later with a 44-0 shutout of Georgia State at home. On Nov. 15 and Nov. 22, respectively, the Mountaineers got big road wins against mainstays at the top of the Sun Belt standings in Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
All totaled, Appalachian State won its last six games of the year, finishing 7-5 on the season and 6-2 in Sun Belt play, good for third in the conference.
Now, with 2015 being their first full season in the FBS with complete postseason eligibility, Appalachian State may be the favorites to win the Sun Belt and they could be a massive darkhorse to earn the G5 New Year’s Six bid.
Those are admittedly lofty expectations, but with 20 returning starters including 2014 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Taylor Lamb at quarterback, the Mountaineers should make considerable improvement. Consider that the two teams they finished behind in the conference (Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafeyette) return the second and third fewest starters in the league with 12 and 11, respectively, and the South Alabama squad that destroyed Appalachian State 47-21 at Kidd Brewer on Oct. 4 only returns 5, and the path seems paved.
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield was a quarterback under Jerry Moore in the mid-90s in Boone and then he was their quarterbacks coach during the title run from 2005-07 where he helped turn Armanti Edwards into one of the greatest quarterbacks in FCS history. Armed with a weapon like Lamb, his offense figures to be dynamic in 2014, and, outside of a Sept. 12 tilt against Clemson on the road, Appalachian State could very well be the favorite in every game on its schedule in 2015.
A record like 10-2 or 11-1 is a legitimate possibility in Satterfield’s third season, and who knows… if something miraculous happens in Death Valley just as it did in the Big House in 2007, we could be talking about a special year for Appalachian State.
Crazy to think it’d only be their first at college football’s highest level.