The Case for Every Sun Belt East Team to Win the Division: Appalachian State

The preview series rolls on this week and, as we near the end, we take a look at the 2018 edition of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.

I skipped Georgia Southern last week and instead our Southern beat writer gave us a two-part preview of the Eagles. Those can be read here and here.

Scott Satterfield’s Mountaineers have won 30 games in three years, the best three year stretch the Sun Belt has ever seen. In that stretch, App State has lost just three conference games and are 3-0 in bowl games.

That’s a lot of three’s. Need more? Last year’s offense averaged 33.5 points per game, good for 30th nationally. Three players registered at least 500 rushing yards and three players caught at least five touchdowns.

Okay, that’s enough threes.

The man at the center of that offense, Taylor Lamb, has graduated. He takes with him 37 wins in 51 starts and 113 touchdowns. In his wake steps in Zac Thomas, a sophomore with 10 pass attempts to his name.

Gone with Lamb are several of the key pieces up front that protected him for years. Thomas will still have preseason all-conference lineman Victor Johnson to anchor the line, though.

Thomas also has the luxury of a deep backfield behind him to lean on.

Running back Jalin Moore is back with his 3,170 career rushing yards and has several young, talented players behind him.

Marcus Williams had 500 rushing yards as a freshman last year and Deatrich Harrington added 296 himself as a freshman, as well.

Williams projects to be the team’s primary backup after Harrington tore his ACL in spring practice. Thanks to an early start to spring ball, Harrington may come available sometime during the season.

In the meantime, tailbacks De’Vonte Smith and DeMarcus Harper should see an increase in carries as the front-half of the schedule includes Charlotte and Gardner-Webb.

There’s also some experience outside with Thomas Hennigan ready step up up into a starring role after an impressive 45-catch freshmen campaign.

The Mountaineers had a trio of freshmen pass-catchers in the rotation, with the other two being Jalen Virgil and Malik Williams. Those two combined for 39 receptions and 536 yards last year.

The young but experienced receiver corps gives Thomas a group that he can develop with for multiple years.

In 2017, App State’s pass defense was a veritable no-fly zone. The Mountaineers led the Sun Belt in pass defense, giving up just 205.1 passing yards a game.

No team allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Mountaineers and no team picked off more passes than App State in 2017.

The only loss the secondary took was safety AJ Howard, leaving the “Legion of Boone” with two of the best defensive backs in the conference: Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes.

The two corner’s each had six picks last year and lead a unit that is second nationally with 56 interceptions since 2015.

Free safety Desmond Franklin also returns after having 49 tackles and three interceptions last season.

This unit will look to improve on consistency, though, after having several tough games in 2017.

The Mountaineers gave up 348 yards a game through the air and seven passing touchdowns against Coastal Carolina, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe.

The other 10 games? Just 162.2 yards and seven touchdowns. Granted, NMSU is an air raid team and ULM has this guy named Caleb Evans playing quarterback.

Up front, Myquon Stout anchors the center of App State’s 3-4 defense at noseguard. Stout was a run stuffing lineman last year, logging 41 tackles.

On one side, Okon Godwin had more tackles for loss last year (4.5) than any other player and sophomore Demetrius Taylor will be taking over the other defensive end spot.

Linebacker is the team’s biggest defensive question mark heading into 2018 with just one starter back in inside backer Anthony Flory. Akeem Davis-Gaither will be the most experienced outside linebacker, having recorded 33 stops last year.

All in all, the Mountaineers will be a force once again defending the pass.

In the current state of the conference, though, and the lack of experience in the front seven could spell trouble for the run defense.

Best Case

App State’s schedule is favorable early on. After a road game at Penn State, the Mountaineers get Charlotte, Gardner-Webb and South Alabama over the next four weeks. A strong start could set the momentum for a division-winning season. 10-2, 7-1

Worst Case

After batting Penn State, the Mountaineers have to face Southern Miss two weeks later. App State also must travel to Jonesboro and Statesboro before ending the season with games against Georgia State and Troy. 7-5, 5-3

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