Everybody in Boone last year was smiling from ear-to-ear after a tremendous 11-win season. The Mountaineers have as much momentum as anybody in the Sun Belt and should win their first FBS conference title this fall. Key returners are gunslinger Taylor Lamb and all-purpose back Marcus Cox as the offense will be clicking on all cylinders. Additionally, having nine returners on defense won’t hurt either for rising coach Scott Satterfield.
Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:
Previewing Appalachian State’s Offense
Appalachian State led the Sun Belt in total offense last season and should again possess the league’s most potent attack.
Using his mix of durability and speed to rush for 4,088 yards and 43 touchdowns in his first three seasons in Boone, senior running back Marcus Cox should continue to be one of the most productive runners in the league and beyond. He won’t have to carry the load alone as fellow backs Jalin Moore and Terrence Upshaw combined for more than 1,100 yards on the ground last season.
“They’re hard to tackle,” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield says. “To me, any one of them can play if we need them.”
The backs should have a solid line in front of them. Satterfield says he’s long believed the best way to build offensive line depth is to avoid tying players to single positions. The result is that Appalachian State possesses a group of versatile blockers who should allow it to handle the loss of two starters from last season.
Like Cox, quarterback Taylor Lamb is creeping up in the program’s record books. The junior set a school record for touchdown passes last season with 31 and ranked 10th in the nation in passing efficiency.
Who exactly Lamb’s targets will be remains a question. Three of last season’s top four receivers are gone. Only big-play threat Shaedon Meadors, who caught 21 passes and three touchdowns, returns. Senior Jaquil Capel and sophomore Jaylan Barbour are among the candidates to play increased roles in the passing game.
Previewing Appalachian State’s Defense
While the Mountaineers’ offense will be stout, the defense is what should put them in the mix for a league title. Nine starters return from what was the Sun Belt’s stingiest unit. All-conference linebacker John Law and last season’s leading tackler, Eric Boggs, return at inside linebacker, giving the unit a rock-solid center.
The Mountaineers’ most important loss on this side of the ball was defensive end Ronald Blair, the team’s leader in sacks in each of the past two seasons. Don’t expect any one player to fill Blair’s role; Satterfield says he plans on having several pass rushers rotate through the spot. Look for Nate Norwood, Tyson Fernandez and Olawale Dada to see significant time up front in the Mountaineers’ 3-4 set.
After picking off seven passes and returning two for touchdowns last season, junior cornerback Latrell Gibbs will head a veteran secondary that returns all but one starter and has an encouraging amount of young depth.
Previewing Appalachian State’s Specialists
Kicker Zach Matics, whose 23-yard field goal on the final play delivered the Mountaineers a victory in the Camellia Bowl, is gone. Freshman Michael Rubino is the likeliest candidate to fill that role. Senior punter Bentlee Critcher has a firm grip on his gig after putting 13 of his 51 kicks inside the 20. Gibbs and Capel should get opportunities to field kicks as last season’s main return men graduated.
After Appalachian State fell a game short of its first Sun Belt title and won its first FBS bowl game in dramatic fashion, the Mountaineers erased any potential doubt about their ability to thrive on the FBS level.
A veteran defense and an offense that returns its nucleus should put Appalachian State among the favorites in the league. Throw in a season-opening trip to Tennessee and a Sept. 17 home date with Miami — the first major conference school to play at Kidd Brewer Stadium — and the 2016 season can’t get here soon enough for the Mountaineer faithful.
“That’s the way we want it,” Satterfield says. “We do have high expectations. We expect to compete for a championship in the Sun Belt, and anything less will be a disappointment.”