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Road to Sun Belt Title Runs Through Appalachian State

Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire

In 2007, Appalachian State made its first big statement to the college football world by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. Eight years later, the Mountaineers may make their second statement by playing their first-ever bowl game, possibly on New Year’s Day.

After an impressive win over Georgia Southern this past Thursday night, the Mountaineers control their destiny for the Sun Belt Conference championship. Both ASU’s offense and defense were very impressive in a 31-13 win in front of a national television audience that saw a team that looked the part as one of the best Group of Five teams this season.

Against the nation’s leading rushing attack (Georgia Southern averaged 399 yards per game before Thursday), App State held the Eagles to only 188 yards on the ground. GSU’s star back Matt Breida, who averaged 146.7 rushing yards per game, mustered only 78 yards on 14 carries.

Not only that, the Mountaineers ran for 231 yards, including a 96-yard effort by Marcus Cox. But the key player for App State is quarterback Taylor Lamb, who was accurate with his passes after a couple of shaky performances earlier this season. Lamb was 14-of-20 for 202 yards and two touchdown passes.

The win put App State at 5-1 overall and 3-0 in Sun Belt play, plus the Mountaineers have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. ASU has two winnable road games ahead against Idaho and South Alabama, and their two toughest games left, against Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, are both at home in Boone, N.C.

Those two games against the Red Wolves and Ragin’ Cajuns also tip to Appalachian State’s favor. Both teams have issues on defense, as evident in last Tuesday night’s game between the two. Arkansas State beat ULL 37-27 to move to 3-0 in SBC play, but both teams had over 400 yards of offense.  While some look at those numbers and see great offense, conversely that means some poor defense was played as well.

If Lamb can continue his consistent passing game, that may be the key for an App State win against the only other challenger to the Sun Belt title.

Still, keep in mind that Louisiana-Lafayette can be a spoiler for App State in their meeting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Running back Elijah McGuire is a game-breaking running back for the Cajuns and is a handful for any defense to handle. But ,if the Mountaineers can hold one of the nation’s top runners in check last Thursday, they should be able to contain McGuire and keep him from having a big game.

If Appalachian State is able to run the table, the question will not just be whether or not the Mountaineers will snag a Top 25 ranking, but also a possible spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Only one of the Group of Five teams can get a spot, and App State belongs in the conversation with teams like Temple, Houston, Memphis and Toledo

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