The Mountaineers have been hot this year! No… not those Mountaineers from the Big 12, the Mountaineers of the Sun Belt. Calling Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina their home, the Mountaineers of Appalachian State have been on a roll this season, allowing just 32 points in their last four games, and not allowing a single point in the second half to teams since their OT loss at Penn State week one – no other team can say that. And we haven’t even talked a bit about any of their players.
Everyone remembers eleven years ago, when the defending back-to-back FCS National Champion walked into the Big House in the first live football action on the Big Ten Network, and stunned the college football world with a win over No. 5 Michigan. Most couldn’t tell you what an Appalachian State was, or where they came from, or if they even knew how to play football (well… they do, in case you were wondering). But this upstart program was far from a shocker, rather it is a program laced with history.
In 1928, a school from Boone, North Carolina, then known as the Appalachian State Normal School, put an English professor, Graydon Poe Eggers, in charge of their first football team (he would later coach their basketball team). Although going 3-6 in their first season (a season where the Georgia Tech Golden Tornado and USC Trojans would win the National Title), it would be 1 of only 5 losing seasons for the school before 1955. The next season, they named C. B. Johnston as head coach, a student of the six time National Champion winning Michigan coach Fielding Yost, where he led them to their first Conference Title in 1931. But true success wouldn’t come until Duke All-American Pierce “Kidd” Brewer stepped up to the plate; in 1937, he led an unbeaten and unscored upon in the regular season Appalachian State team, outscoring opponents 206-0. He would become the namesake of the App State stadium.
Throughout the 40s and 50s, Appalachian State would continue to perform well in the NAIA, but true success didn’t come until the move to the Southern Conference in the 70s. Working their way into the NCAA, App State would remain steady for their first decade at the level, playing about .500 ball; in 1975, they would get key wins over East Carolina, Wake Forest, and South Carolina, three wins that went along way to securing App State a spot among the Division 1 teams. By the 80s, they gave future Texas and Hall of Famer Mack Brown his first head coaching job, before finding their stride with two coaches, Sparky Woods, who would right the ship, and Jerry Moore, who would pilot it. While Woods may have given App State their first two playoff births in the Division I-AA (now known as FCS), Moore took them to the playoffs in 18 of his 24 seasons at the helm. Under Moore, they won three back-to-back-to-back FCS National Championships, had two NFL draftees, a Walter Payton Award winner, and became the first ever FCS team to receive votes in a final AP poll.
Of course, as much as history matters to many, it doesn’t matter what a team did in the past – it only matters what they do now… and App State is still doing it. Since becoming a full time FBS member, they’ve won three straight bowl games, capping them off with a 34-0 win against Toledo in last year’s Dollar General Bowl, took a 9th ranked Tennessee team to OT in Knoxville, had an NFL draftee in Colby Gossett, and took 10th ranked Penn State to OT in Beaver Stadium (fun fact, the Michigan, Tennessee, and Penn State games all occurred on September 1st). This season, they are averaging nearly 7 yards per play, just about 10 players on average per touchdown, and an 82% red zone scoring percentage.
The star of this team, quarterback Zac Thomas. This sophomore lead his team out for the first time at Beaver Stadium, one of the toughest places to play, especially for a new quarterback. Being calm and cool in the pocket, he led drive after drive, for 270 yards through the air, another 43 on the ground, and 3 total touchdowns, putting the Mountaineers in position to upset a pre-season pick for National Champion. While they only got into OT, Appalachian State garnered enough attention to gain some votes in the Coaches Poll (although the AP Poll remained silent). He followed up with a perfect 14 for 14 day at Charlotte, with 4 total touchdowns in the route on the road. After their loss to Penn State, the Mountaineers would outscore opponents 204-32; Kidd Brewer would be proud. During that time, Zac Thomas would account for 16 of the team’s 28 offensive touchdowns, with WR Corey Sutton, Kansas State transfer and life long App State fan, catching 4 of those, including a 90 yard touchdown. Jalin Moore, who was the standout star coming into the season, reached 400 yards and six touchdowns before his most-likely season ending injury on Tuesday against Arkansas State; Moore had back-back 1000 yard rushing seasons coming into this season, and was well on pace for another.\
Now, they are creeping their way up into the Top 25, trying to join the 2016 Troy team as the only Sun Belt teams to ever be ranked in the AP Top 25. They currently sit with 11 points on the AP Poll (good enough for 31st) and 38 points in the Coaches’ Poll (good enough for 29th). Do they have the wins at top ranked teams like many others on the polls – no. Do they have the toughest schedule in the nation – definitely not. Do they have all the national eyes on them – no. But what they do have, wins – only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin have had more wins in their last 50 games than App State has. And they just keep on winning.
With strength on offense and defense, Appalachian State deserves respect. While they never will be said in the same breath as the Bamas and Ohio States of the world, they will keep on winning, the Rock will keep on rocking, and the Mountaineers will be a Group of Five team to watch for years to come, especially with games at North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Miami, Texas A&M, and Clemson scheduled over the next ten years.
So, AP Poll, Coaches Poll – you watching?